LAUREL — The pulse of many small towns in Montana reside within the schools. Activities like sports give communities something to wrap themselves around with each passing year.
Gyms showcase a school’s pride in what it does. But who is in charge of making sure these arenas look good come game time?
That is where Steve Lalum comes in.
Lalum runs and owns High Performance Floors Inc. out of Lewistown. Throughout the summer months, Lalum estimates that he and his crew touch up or design about 70 floors throughout Montana in that three- to four-month span.
That is a lot of driving miles going from school to school, and with his clientele located throughout the central, northern and eastern parts of the state, Lalum estimates he drives around 90,000-100,000 miles each year.
Half of that is in the summer, his business’s busiest time. That is also his guess. The actual number he does not want to know.
“I don’t know, I don’t want to add it up,” he told 406mtsports.com back on July 11 with a laugh. “It’s a lot.”
Lalum was around recently touching up the gym floors at the Laurel middle school and Park City, Joliet and Shepherd.
The crunch time is in the summer, as schools want floors refinished for volleyball season and classroom gym use. He will see a bump in activity after volleyball is over for those schools who want their floors ready in time for basketball season.
With the high school and college sports season now in full swing, Lalum’s work is now getting looked at for the first time throughout the state.
He knows his work is appreciated, and he is happy to be a part of that process.
“They get excited and the smaller the town, the more that’s the case,” Lalum said. “The gym is such an integral part of what happens in towns. It’s just the Friday night thing. It’s what they do.
“They always say when your post office and your school go away, your town is done. So they fight pretty hard to keep their identity and keep it all there. It’s pretty cool. They do a good job of it. So it’s kind of fun to do something that is really meaningful for them.”
Lalum saw his business boom in the last five years. They do everything from simple refinish work, which must be done annually, to repairs, small artwork jobs to full on sandings, which completely redesign the gym floors.
“They take a floor all the way down to bare wood and start over with new courts and lines and art designs and whatnot,” Lalum explained about the sandings. “That process, that’s an every 15 year type of deal.”
The refinish work includes cleaning up the floors of any scuff marks and scratches. They scrub the floor down with cleaner. Once everything is clean, they will lay finish down on the floor and the job is done. Refinishing floors are usually done in a day.
Of course, the sandings take more time and are quite expensive. But the want and need of sandings is growing, and it is an area of business where Lalum is expanding as well.
“I used to only do one a year and I didn’t really want to do them too bad,” Lalum said. “My customer base has grown enough that I don’t want them to go to somebody else for that service so I do them.”
Sandings take about two to three weeks, depending on how elaborate the artwork is. Lalum has done sanding work at three schools this summer. It began back at the end of May, when Lalum and his crew began their first sanding of the season in Fort Benton’s gym. Lalum began posting photos of their work on Twitter as the gym floor progressed, beginning with the initial sanding all the way through putting the new artwork down on the floor. The floor features a red bull in the middle of the floor, with 26-foot long wheat heads on each corner and the word “Longhorns” in bright gold lettering on each side of the floor. The keys are painted red with a longhorn head right below the free throw lines of both sides.
He said the school and community came up with the design, something he was more than happy to make a reality.
And show off a little bit.
“I usually try to tweet as we work through a project just because it’s fun,” he explained. “Get to brag a little bit and show off your work.
“It was very representative of that community. Fort Benton is the heart of wheat country in Montana … it is the economy there. It was a neat way to recognize that.”
He did a partial sanding at Montana State Billings, and his current project is the University of Providence, formerly the University of Great Falls. Lalum’s work on the gym floor is part of the rebranding process that the private school is undergoing, a process Lalum said he was excited to have a part in.
“That one came about pretty quick,” Lalum said. “We were pretty well booked up for the season and I got a cancellation the same day I got a call from them. I said, ‘Well, you’re in luck. If you’d have called me yesterday, I’d have said no.’ So that one came about fast.”
That project is taking more time than normal as Lalum and his crew have spread out the work that gets done to work around their busy summer schedule.
Lalum’s crew is made up of Dalton Farra, Kevin Bingham and Bryson Behl. This group is who travels from gym to gym working on each floor. If the job is a sanding, Lalum adds a couple more people, usually local people with where the job is being done, to the job because of the extra work.
He said with a crew this size, he prefers to keep it to two or three sandings a summer. Next summer, Lalum said he’d like to add a second crew so they can add some more projects, around four to six, as he already has a few schools committed to next summer with a couple more in talks with his company. That way, one crew would be strictly sanding and the other would be the graphics crew.
Lalum, who has been working in this business for 15 years, said it used to be that they would go to a gym, sand it down and cleaned it up before coming back in the next day to tape out lines and paint the floor.
“Now, the art is where it’s at,” he said. “If you’re not doing art, you’re not doing sandings.”
Other schools that Lalum has worked on in the past are Dutton-Brady, Simms, Sunburst and Denton, as well as Power.
Aside from gyms floors, Lalum’s summer revolved around doing the PA for the Lewistown Redbirds Class A Legion baseball team. His son, Andrew, plays on the team, and will be a senior this year at Lewistown. He also ran the scoreboard and did the music for the Redbirds, and would even schedule work appointments in places that would be close to where the Redbirds had upcoming games.
Lalum himself went to school in Conrad and college at Montana State.
“I’m a Golden Triangle boy,” he said. “Came out of college and worked at my family’s implement business for years and we had a store in Lewistown and we sold that and I said, ‘I’m going to go do this instead.’”
And the reaction from schools and the public? Well, for Lalum, that is the best part.
“It helps with a sense of pride in the school and what they have and some real identity,” Lalum said. “And it just fits the whole gym and the theme of what they do.”
“You help create a home court advantage for them because they have this cool court.”