A decision maker takes the heat

Chuck Parvis oversees school playing fields and athletic facilities, and he is used to criticism

Education Beat

October 23, 2005|By KAREN NITKIN | KAREN NITKIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

That voice on the Recreation and Parks "inclement weather" recordings, the one that parents of sports-playing kids in Howard County both dread and welcome, belongs to Chuck Parvis. He is the one who decides whether the playing fields at local schools will be closed that day.

Naturally, a lot of people get angry with him. Why did he cancel little Johnny's soccer game when the sun was shining?

"It's OK," Parvis said. "I can take criticism better than the fields can take damage."

On weekends, Parvis has to make decisions about the fields by 7 a.m. He wakes up about 6:30, checks the weather, walks outside and then decides if the games will go on.

Sometimes games will be canceled on sunny days because the fields are wet and can be damaged. That's when the angry calls pour in.

But Parvis, 55, has learned to roll with the punches. Practicing and teaching yoga helps him stay calm. And recently, a health scare with his 30-year-old son has put his job in perspective, he said.

"I don't understand people's sense of urgency," he said.

He also has the perspective of time. Parvis has been in charge of scheduling events on school property for a long time - his 30-year anniversary will be Nov. 11.

"I don't just do fields," he says. "I do everything, inside and outside." As the community service specialist, Parvis finds space for church groups, PTA meetings and art classes. Any nonprofit group that wants to schedule an event at one of Howard County's 70 schools needs approval.

Parvis sometimes speaks in the royal "we," as in, "We try to give priority to kids," but the truth is, he is a one-man department and always has been. The only help comes from Pat O'Malley, his secretary for the past four years, who is stationed at a desk outside his office.

"He's very easy to work for because he's very laid back and calm," she said.

She noted that angry phone calls are just a part of the job.

Parvis, wearing a colorful Carlos Santana tie on a recent weekday, works in a cluttered cubicle on the ground floor of the Board of Education building. Indian flute music plays softly, and stacks of Outside magazines are piled along one wall. The screensaver on his computer shows stunning photos of national parks in the Western United States.

Parvis invented the job as he went along. When he started in 1975, the county had 20 schools, he said. Everything then was done by hand. In fact, he only started using a computerized scheduling system in January, he said.

But the main parts of the job have not changed. Anyone who wants to use a space has to fill out a form in quintuplicate - white for Parvis, green for billing, yellow for the principal of the school, pink for the custodian and gold for the user. Any nonprofit is eligible to use school space - and even some for-profits, if they are using the space for nonprofit events - but if Parvis is not familiar with the group, he will ask for articles of incorporation to make sure it is legitimate.

The forms are arranged in rolling file racks that are color-coded by season. After the deadline for each season passes, Parvis goes through the forms, approving them based on a priority system.

Kids get priority from 6 to 8 p.m. weekdays so they can be home at a reasonable hour, he said. And the intended use of the venue is taken into consideration, so if an aerobics class and a basketball team want to use a gym, the basketball players will get it because they need the hoops. The aerobics class might be moved to the cafeteria or an auditorium.

But things can change quickly. A school always has priority for its own space, so if the marching band suddenly needs more time to practice, that can bump other activities. The schools are supposed to give seven days' notice, Parvis said, but that does not always happen. "We're always short on enough space," he said.

Though there is no reason for him to keep the facts in his head, Parvis said he nearly always knows who is playing on what field on any given day.

Last year, Parvis and other school officials proposed charging a small fee, maybe $5 an hour, for use of the outdoor fields. The idea was to collect money to improve field maintenance and to prompt groups to be more serious about reserving space.

Bernie Dennison, director of basketball for the Howard County Youth Program, said his group wanted the fee. "When you start paying for stuff, people will not pay for stuff if they're not going to use it," he said.

The proposal was shot down by Howard County legislators, but it remains under consideration, Parvis said. "We're going to continue looking at that," he said. To charge the fees, state law would have to be changed, he said.

Dennison said he has been working with Parvis for 25 years. "He's great, he said. "To be honest with you, I dread the day if he ever retires. He always has the kids' best interest in mind."

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