When Rubbermaid couldn’t meet its needs, the Medford School District’s custodial team found a student who could.

Over the last three years, more than 20 of the district’s Rubbermaid dust mops have been decommissioned after the hinge attaching the handle to the base broke.

Frustrated, Joannie Laughlin, the district’s custodial supervisor, contacted Rubbermaid to see whether she could purchase just the hinge but was told she would need to replace the entire base, which costs about $16.

“I saved the frames just in case Rubbermaid ever made the part,” Laughlin said.

Andy Altmann, Hedrick Middle School’s site supervisor, was aware of Laughlin’s quandary and solicited the help of the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teacher, Jacob Smith, and one of his star pupils, Zach Mc Kenzie-Cook, 12.

“Zach was constantly in (the STEM classroom),” Smith said. “I couldn’t keep him out of here, and I was having a hard time finding extension activities and challenges to keep him busy.”

So Smith tasked Zach with reverse engineering the piece and replicating it using the school’s 3-D printers.

Zach, who is in the seventh grade, got to work measuring and creating sketches of the piece and inputting the data into the Autodesk software program. He said it took him two class periods to create the prototype, and he spent another day improving the piece with Smith’s help.

He has since “printed” 10 of the hinges, which custodians districtwide are now using on their dust mops. The piece, which he put his initials on, is made of a more durable plastic and is more flexible and structurally sound than the manufactured piece.

“It was cool to help my school,” said Zach.

“And the whole district, really,” chimed in Laughlin.

Zach also has made switch plates, a peg board and action figures on the school’s 3-D printers.

The custodial department purchased a spool of plastic filament for $70, which should be enough to make about 200 hinges. Smith said he would save the file so more could be made in the future.

Smith said he hopes Zach will take the next step — perhaps in high school — to market the piece.

But as far as his long-range goals, Zach is more interested in designing video games than becoming an entrepreneur, he said.

— Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.