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Phil Diana has served as the Director of Building and Grounds for the North Haven school district since May of 2012. Phil and his crew always make sure that they have the Indians’ fields looking good and in ideal playing shape. (File photo courtesy of Phil Diana )
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While the condition of the field often goes unnoticed at most sporting events, it’s still a key component that every team needs in order to perform to its potential. In North Haven, Phil Diana and his fellow members of the town’s building and grounds crew put in a lot of hours every week to get the fields in tiptop shape. Phil has been the Director of Building and Grounds for the North Haven school district since May of 2012.
“We have 200 acres, and that’s just the school property. We have to maintain and cut the grass on all elementary schools, the middle school, the high school. We’re maintaining the entire school system,” says Phil. “We service everything as timely as we can. We work well with the principals and coaches to keep everyone satisfied with what they need.”
Phil stays in constant contact North Haven’s coaches and administrators to make sure that everything is in place. Phil wants all of the practices and games to run on time, while ensuring the safety of each and every athlete.
“I always try to keep a good working relationship with all the coaches. Most of the coaches have my number directly in case they cannot get ahold of [Athletic Director Steve Blumenthal],” Phil says. “My staff members work together to get these fields looking as well as we can to represent ourselves when other teams come to play us. We need to make sure everything runs safely for the kids.”
Blumenthal says that Phil and the grounds crew do an outstanding job of keeping the fields looking beautiful. That can be particularly challenging when the weather threatens to rain on the parade on a regular basis.
“They’ve done a great job all the time, but this season especially, with all the weather issues we had, any time we had a varsity game, they had the fields ready. Everything was pristine,” says Blumenthal. “We didn’t have to postpone any game because of the fields being under water or not in playing shape. I think only a few districts can claim that. North Haven is right up there with the elite.”
The entire department that Phil oversees features 28 staff members. The grounds crew consists of five people, three of which are maintenance staffers.
“We review the master schedule every morning,” Phil says. “We sit down, see what teams are playing, and divvy up the work during the day to get the fields prepared.”
Some sports are easier to manage than others. Still, Phil and his colleagues need to follow the guidelines of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC)—the governing board for high school sports in the state—every step of the day.
“Baseball and softball are the most difficult ones to get ready. The grass fields need to be lined one or two times per week, and we do that with our own paint machines so we line the fields in accordance with CIAC field sizes,” says Phil. “It’s not just about lining, but making sure fields are cut at proper heights, making sure all the weed-whacking is done, and cleaning up the garbage teams leave behind. So much work goes into it, and we have five staff members that are the major grounds crew that get it all done.”
Phil was working as a manager for construction and real estate with Verizon when his opportunity in North Haven came about. Phil’s family has been in town since 1952, and those strong family ties motivated him to make the move.
“My background is in building and construction maintenance. Although I wasn’t doing all of this in the past, I have good knowledge of property and site work, so it kind of rolled into one another,” says Phil, who’s also coached Little League and Junior American Legion baseball in North Haven. “My kids went through this school system, and I have grandchildren in the town. For me to stay connected with that and work here every day is a lot of fun and very rewarding.”
Phil extends a ton of credit to the people around him who help make this entire process possible. Phil knows that his grounds staff crew cares about their work, and it makes him feel proud when he sees those efforts show up on the field.
“I want to emphasize the work my crew does and how dedicated they are to their work. Their finished product is always good and makes the town look good,” Phil says. “They’re concerned about that, and many staff workers have been doing this between 10 and 35 years. They help me a great deal to acclimate to this type of public position.”
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