By Holly Whisler
Springfield business MB Heating & Cooling realized that many of their employees were facing a dilemma: go to work, or stay home with kids who are learning remotely. General manager Doug Gholson explained that last spring, the company had a plumber and an installer who could not work a full week because they were needed at home. After realizing that students may not be able to return to in-person learning in the fall, Gholson and company president, John Wyss, began to brainstorm about possible ideas.
Gholson and Wyss decided it would be good for everyone if the employees’ kids could do their remote learning on the premises of MB Heating & Cooling. On Aug. 9, the company began advertising for a tutor to join the staff and received a tremendous response, with more than 25 applications for the position. Gholson said, “As soon as it was posted that we were looking for a tutor, it just blew up!”
The MB Heating & Cooling building at 1555 W. Jefferson St. includes a 7,000-square-foot training center on the second floor where technicians learn HVAC or electrical work. This space has now been transformed into a tutoring center. Gholson said, “We did the floors, painted, added trim, installed LED lighting and we’re finishing offices to be used as quiet testing space.” Cameras will be installed for security purposes and so parents can peak in on their kids during the work day. Betty Bond, the tutor who was hired, works with four to eight students a day.
Although there was a lot to do in a short period, Gholson said, “It came together quickly. It’s been time-consuming and sometimes overwhelming, but exciting and well worth it. We didn’t do this for recognition. We did this to keep our employees and keep them happy. The most important thing is the kids won’t be losing ground on their education, and our employees can continue providing for their families.”
Two other small business owners, Rachel and Zach Rambach, understand first-hand the challenges families are facing this school year. Zach said, “We have a five and a seven-year old and know the stress of learning remotely.”
Rachel is a board-certified music therapist at Music Therapy Connections, and Zach owns Rambach Insurance Agency. The couple are also now co-owners of Springfield Learning and Working Annex, 1230 Centre West Dr., a space dedicated to the needs of students who are learning virtually and professionals who may need a quiet space to work remotely.
Zach said, “We own this building, where Rachel has had her business for about five years, and we did a build-out and split the remainder of the building into my office and another space to rent. It’s nice space, but there’s not too many people looking to sign a long-term lease during a pandemic.”
When the couple realized that school would not resume in-person this fall, they decided to offer short-term rentals of space where parents and students could get relief. The Springfield Learning and Working Annex has multiple rooms that will accommodate an educator and students, or one or more professionals, along with independent study zones that can be reserved for a partial day or an entire day. The space is equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi (suitable for teleconferencing and video communication) plus indoor and outdoor security cameras.
In addition, if parents want their kids to have a qualified facilitator or tutor to keep them on track, answer academic questions or help with technology needs, there is a directory of facilitators on the website who have experience working with children. Parents can decide which facilitator best suits their child’s learning needs, make arrangements with the facilitator for payment and book space through the website.
Zach said, “The Springfield community has supported us and our businesses. This is a way to give back, as much as we could, for what is needed now.”
Holly Whisler is a freelance writer from Springfield who did substitute teaching prior to COVID.