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Maintenance, custodial and grounds crew service adds up

WSU’s most valuable resource is its 7,055 employees and its students. But, in order for them to carry out their jobs and studies, each of them needs somewhere to work and gather. And after 115 years WSU has developed a rather sizeable amount of real estate and buildings — to be exact, 732 buildings worth almost $2 billion — not counting residence halls, apartment complexes and land/real estate holdings.

In 1985, WSU had 533 buildings that contained 6,650,356 net assignable square feet on all campus locations. Since then, 199 buildings (2,978,321 sq. feet) have been added for a total of more than 29,000 rooms (9,628,677 sq. feet), most of which are maintained by Facilities Operations.

51,726 sq. ft. per custodian
Custodial staff maintain 721 restrooms alone on the Pullman campus. That’s 99,304 sq. feet — roughly the size of 40 average family homes. The restrooms, like classrooms, are cleaned every day. It costs $100,000 per year to just stock them with toilet paper and paper towels.

In 1988, 121 custodial staff on the Pullman campus cleaned an average of 38,986 sq. feet each, excluding the CUB, SRC or Housing and Dining spaces. In 2005, 122.5 employees (essentially the same number of people) clean 51,726 sq. feet each.

Custodial staff at regional campuses carry similar work loads with five Tri-Cities custodians covering approximately 48,000 sq. feet, eight custodians in Spokane responsible for approximately 44,423 sq. feet each, and 8.3 Vancouver custodians cleaning 35,108 sq. feet each.

Pullman’s custodial manager Tom Parrish says the biggest change in 20 years is the amount of work custodians are expected to get done.

“The hardest thing is giving custodial staff enough time to get things done and feel like they’re doing a good job,” he says.

The only way to manage the increased work load is by outfitting employees with good quality, adequate equipment. FacOps is using more battery-operated equipment, using rider scrubbers for hallways in engineering buildings and the gyms and upgrading to 26-inch scrubbers when possible. FacOps also tries to use jumbo size wherever possible so that supplies last longer between replacements.

Saving time is critical to custodial staff. Pullman custodians waxed 567,484 sq. feet of flooring in 2005, cleaned 99,864 sq. feet of carpet, refinished 46,627 sq. feet of hardwood and washed 29,532 pieces of glass. (Similar specific information was not available for regional campuses.)

Keeping up the grounds
In addition to buildings, the Pullman campus includes 467 landscaped acres, 59 acres of paved parking, 26 acres of playfields, 23 miles of sidewalks and 37 miles of streets. Each WSU Grounds crew employee maintains approximately 1.4 million sq. feet of grounds.

The WSU Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Spokane campuses encompass an additional 55 acres, 195 acres, and 75 acres respectively, which are maintained by a total of 10.5 grounds staff on the three campuses. Spokane also has four seasonal grounds workers.

At WSU Pullman, the grounds staff has increased from 19 to 21 employees in 20 years, said supervisor Kappy Brun, although there are other significant changes, including equipment. Improved equipment, tools and work methods have resulted in increased efficiency, increased ability to perform tasks and the ability to explore new technologies and experiment with different methods and procedures, she says.

For example, running larger mowers decreases the time required for field mowing by one-third; more tractors add an extra plow route to deal with snow, and a new $55,000 sweeper allows for easier sidewalk sweeping and compliance with new WSU Environmental Health and Safety dust-particle requirements.

While grounds employees formerly were mostly temporary workers, they now include certified arborists, licensed public pesticide staff, certified bucket-truck, fork-lift and equipment operators, and the addition of a nursery worker, which has allowed instituting a tree maintenance program to be more proactive about plant and tree maintenance.

30 miles of water lines
And then there’s the mechanical side. Maintenance Services staff in Pullman alone manage 99 elevators on service contracts, 522 street lights, 820 walk lights, 22 miles of steam lines and 30 miles of fresh water lines.

According to Pullman maintenance manager Howard Gossage, these employees respond to more than 48,000 service calls annually. Although the work is basically the same today as it was 20 years ago, Gossage says technology has changed how repairs are dealt with. This creates a different type of work, a need for more people who are electronically trained and requirements for a better trained workforce systemwide.

Spokane facilities manager Jon Schad agrees, saying he tends to “hire people who can provide expertise in a number of fields today, whereas in the past workers were more specialized.”

Building maintenance mechanics, each assigned a group of buildings, are responsible for all minor — and some major — maintenance work in those buildings. Gossage says today’s employees need better skill sets — to be certified in one area with skills in one or two other areas — than did former employees.

New buildings require new technology, which in turn requires more specialized equipment. In order to maintain this equipment, Gossage looks for opportunities to provide the training that staff need. Many specialized areas, such as fire alarms and electricians, require specific certification courses.

While Gossage sees a higher cost to maintain high technology buildings, he also says service calls are down lately, especially regarding lighting. Due to a special energy project in most of the buildings, lighting is now more efficient.

The managers agree that, regardless of the specific area, efficiency, training, equipment and employee ownership of their work are the biggest changes in FacOps during the last 20 years — along with a few million light bulbs and a lot of toilet paper!

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