Tony Hinton

Magazine of CA

Facing Forward

February 10, 2021

Tony Hinton joined Cary Academy in January 2021 as the Director of Facilities. Before coming to CA, Tony was Chief of the Lease Compliance and Construction Division with the Maryland State Department of General Services. A member of the Association for Facilities Engineering and a Certified Professional Manager, he brings a broad background to the role, having previously served as a director of facilities and operations, quality assurance manager, and police officer at various points in his career. He
is married with five children.

Tony is responsible for overseeing all aspects of facilities’ operations, ensuring not only that CA’s buildings and grounds are properly maintained, but that they follow a mission-aligned path of facility innovation. Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with Tony to discuss his vision for CA’s Facilities Division and the perspective and insights he brings to his new role.

Beyond keeping the lights on and maintaining the beautiful campus for which CA is well-known, how does the facilities team support CA’s mission and opportunities for innovative, relevant, personalized learning?

The number one goal for the Facilities Division is making sure that the school is ready and able to help students learn every day. Without classrooms that are comfortable, clean, and support the faculty’s teaching needs, the school won’t be able to perform its whole reason for being. For us, the number one priority is preventative maintenance. Sure, unexpected problems happen, but as Director of Facilities, you don’t ever want to have something go so wrong that you have to close the school.

The environment we create and maintain is crucial to making sure students are ready to learn. Having a welcoming campus makes it more enjoyable to be here each day. It also signals that we take care of our assets, which tells prospective parents that it’s less likely that an HVAC problem or a plumbing issue will prevent their child from learning any given day. Having safe, reliable, eye-catching activity buses does the same—it gets people’s attention and puts CA’s name out there in a way that instills pride.

My team—and I consider us all teammates, myself included—is divided into facilities maintenance and landscaping. We are responsible for all buildings, the grounds, the foodservice facilities, school vehicles, and athletics facilities. My staff includes trained electricians, a plumber, an HVAC technician, and a certified athletic field technician.
You might be surprised to know that there are specific standards by which we have to maintain the athletic fields to host games; there is work that has to be done to the fields before and after every match.

It’s our job to make sure everything you see and touch at CA works like it’s supposed to—to the point where you don’t even have to think about it working; it just does.

Looking ahead, what challenges are most critical for CA’s facilities, and what opportunities do those challenges present?

Since it opened, CA has done a great job of introducing and maintaining cutting-edge technology in the classroom. However, the ideas of how to use our spaces—classrooms and offices and the campus as a whole—have changed a lot in the past 25 years. Some of those forward-thinking ideas—like LEED certification and giving faculty offices rather than dedicated classrooms—have been put into practice in the Center for Math and Science. I believe such innovative use of space, green practices, and a greater focus on efficiency should be a goal across campus.

One of the most important ideas shaping educational facilities these days is creating more welcoming, efficient spaces that help make the day-to-day experience even better for students and faculty. Increased natural light is a big part of that, and much of the Upper School renovation project is about increasing the amount of natural light inside the building. I also want to see even more green spaces on campus; we have many of them compared to traditional schools, but I want us to have even more.

One of the biggest questions I’m wrestling with is how we grow and where we grow. The recommendations in the Master Facilities Plan are based on the idea of CA staying pretty much the same as it was when the original review was done. If we grow—and we have been growing—it’s essential to know which of those recommendations make sense to follow and which would hinder the school over the next five to ten years.

How does your background influence the way you see your role and potential impact at CA?

I think that having such a diverse background—I’ve been a cop, I’ve worked with ex-offenders who were transitioning out of prison, I’ve worked with homeless populations, I’ve taught in the classroom—has given me the ability to relate to people with many different perspectives. I’ve seen people at their highest heights, and I’ve seen people at their lowest depths. That empathy to understand —to say ‘I may not share your experience, but I understand your joy, pain, needs, and concerns’—I think that’s especially important with students.

Many of our students experience so much stress and face challenges that we, as adults, don’t always understand; they struggle with peer pressure, socioeconomic differences, uncertainty about their future, and a sense of responsibility as the next generation of leaders. CA goes a long way towards helping our students navigate those challenges by giving them the tools to take ownership of their education and their future—and I love that. I think my experience in showing compassion will help support them.

What drew you to the Director of Facilities position at CA?

In a previous role, I had the opportunity to teach sixth-grade science. So, I have a heart for teaching and children learning and a sense of what’s key to helping children learn. I was very encouraged by the ways CA invests in its students and how the school gives them the tools and opportunities to own their learning—the ability to manage their educational pursuits. It was a completely different concept than I’d encountered before.

And then I saw the campus setup. CA is like a college campus. It gives everyone—students and faculty—room to relax and decompress when they are not in class. Combined with the chance to find their own way to learn, it gives students the opportunity to get a feel for the college experience at an early age.

I also noticed that many employees have worked here since the school opened. That says a lot about CA as a workplace and the community as a whole.

That said, sometimes, longevity can be a double-edged sword. Some of my first thoughts were: is it going to be hard to innovate and bring change in this role? Are people going to be receptive to new thoughts or new ideas?

When people have had a part in creating a policy or making a decision long ago, they are reluctant when someone new asks, “why do we do this?” But, so far, everyone’s been open to that question and been willing to give new ideas consideration. That’s a big part of my job—to think ahead about what we will need in the future and how we get from here to there, which means sometimes following a different path than what got us here.

What’s the most surprising aspect of working in facilities at a school like CA?

The ongoing investment from the CA community—including the founders—was surprising to me. It’s not something I’m used to. Often, in my experience, facilities’ needs are seen reactively; we will deal with things when they happen, not before—because of the costs involved in being proactive. CA’s openness—not just to fix things when they break, but to sit down and listen to needs and plan ahead on big picture matters­—was like a foreign language to me at first. It’s been a welcome surprise.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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