Mr. Gambino in the hallway

Mr. Gambino: The Key to CHS’s Reopening

Walking to Mrs. DeMarco’s desk, organized with colorful bins and pom poms strung across its front, Mr. Gambino’s boots left dusty footprints across the front of the room. Though he had been in the building almost every day this summer, he now seemed out of place walking into C14. Mr. Gambino hadn’t changed out of his construction books because prior to entering the Journalism Classroom; he had been continuing his work as the Project Manager of restoring CHS back to its prime.

Mr. Gambino is the man behind the curtain of Cresskill High School’s restoration. He was the one in charge of preparing the school for 1,000 students awaiting return.

His career began 35 years ago when he started working in his father’s small construction business. Afterward, he worked for larger construction management firms, and eventually began working at his current company, Epic Project Management. This is the company that Cresskill administration hired to oversee all the work getting done on the school after its flooding due to Hurricane Ida.

But Ida may not be to blame. Mr. Gambino, after working on the school’s restoration for 7 months, thinks that there was another hidden factor. He explains how Ida was a wind maker, not a rainmaker, and that we have had numerous hurricanes without flooding. He proposes that the real cause of our school’s closure was two residents with “man-made lakes that were above here in the town away (possibly Alpine).” He theorized that the residents drained their privately owned lakes and released their dams to prevent the hurricane from flooding their lakes and property. 

If this were the case, Cresskill residents would not need to panic about protecting the school from future flooding, as hurricanes were never the issue. But none of this is confirmed, and protecting the school is still vital. Mr. Gambino thinks the best plan is to establish a concrete wall around the building. Government agencies have gotten involved in this plan and raised concerns such as where rainwater would go and how it would affect other people in the area.

Despite the school flooding in September 2021, Mr. Gambino did not start working here until March 2022, due to the need for funding. The repairs on the school were estimated to cost around $22 million, most of which was funded by the bond referendum passed by the citizens of Cresskill in January and signed into action in February. Mr. Gambino posited that without the bond referendum, we would not be back in the school.

Once the funds were secured, CHS could start its major construction, managed by Mr. Gambino. As the Project Manager, he monitored the day-to-day work going on in the building, such as bringing in and managing contractors of different trades, such as electricians and plumbers.

Principal Massaro spoke on some of Mr. Gambino’s responsibilities, stating he “made sure the expectations for safety and security that we need while we’re running the school are being upheld while the work is going on.” Regarding the actual work on CHS, Mr. Gambino lent his expertise to “make sure the decisions that are being made to finalize the planning are getting done right.” Massaro also explained that having one person solely responsible for project management was vital.

Since Mr. Gambino was new to the building, the custodians helped the most with information on the school, such as its history and where things were located. One person Mr. Gambino especially worked with was Mr. Tom Schillaci, the director of building and grounds of the Cresskill School District. Schillaci spoke on their interactions, saying they worked together “every day, side by side. I watched out for the district, he watched out for construction.”

Mr. Schillaci also described Mr. Gambino as a “complete asset to this project” since his most important contribution was “being able to get things on site, which was a miracle in itself, keeping on top of contractors, and always giving a little extra push so we could get work done a little faster.”

One issue they faced was the minimal time available for the work. Mr. Gambino recalls that only having “six months to put $22 million worth of construction in place and open up [the school] was a big stressor for the challenge.”

Adding to the time constraints, there were no blueprints in place for the building when Mr. Gambino joined Cresskill’s team. Normally when beginning the work on a project, there are drawings and layouts depicting the plans and final product, but CHS’s restoration lacked this.

Mr. Gambino states that he basically “got assigned this project and walked in one day, and faced what we faced…honestly we winged it.” Mr. Schillaci agrees, explaining that “we had to pretty much just go as we went…kinda freehanding the project was a task in itself.”

it’s worth it, seeing all you guys back here.

— Mr. Gambino

Despite these issues and the stress they caused, Mr. Gambino says, “it’s worth it, seeing all you guys back here.” This project is even his favorite (though the most stressful). “I’ve never been brought in as part of a family like I’ve had here. We’ve had a lot of laughs, good times, and everybody’s been sweet so I’m going to miss that.”

Even though Principal Massaro’s direct interactions with him varied, he still recalls that Mr. Gambino “turned out to be a great guy and really fit in nicely with our custodial, buildings, and grounds crew, as well as our administration and staff.”

With only the auditorium and media center currently under construction, the management of numerous contractors is not necessary. So sadly, Mr. Gambino is not working with the Cresskill School District anymore, though he is missed. 

Mr. Schillaci agrees that Mr. Gambino became part of the family: “Saying goodbye was the hardest thing because after a while, we rebuilt this, it was ours.”

“There’s always a time you have to say goodbye, but I’m sure someplace down the road we’ll meet back up.”

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