Custodial workers give a face to campus cleanliness

Features, Special Sections Editor @ UDK

This article appeared in the Dec. 12, 2013 edition of The University Daily Kansan.

Janice Simmons wanted to be an artist when she grew up. Then, after she was done with school, she wanted to be an interior decorator.

“But you know what I ended up as? Cleaning,” she said with a laugh.

Simmons has been a custodian at the University for 22 years—longer than some students have been alive. Every morning at 6:30 a.m., she starts her shift in Zone 5 (in Spencer Art Museum and Spencer Research Library) vacuuming, cleaning the entryway floors and cleaning the bathrooms.

“To me, it’s a routine. I know I gotta do it, so I just get in there and do it,” she said.

The daily chores

“Nobody when they’re young says, ‘I’m going to grow up and be a custodian,’” Darlene Hall, Simmons’ Zone 5 custodial manager, said. “It’s not a glamorous job, but it’s got benefits and perks to it. It does feel good when you take something that’s bad and you make it look pretty.”

Simmons has a sense of pride in what she does, especially after the laborious task of stripping and waxing a floor. But when it shines, people notice.

“Everybody’s like, ‘oh, your floors, they look good,’ “ Simmons said.

Without hesitation, Simmons said the bathrooms are the most dreaded part of the job.

“I go into some of the bathrooms and it’s like, do you guys really live like this?”

Simmons said with a sigh. “[There’s] a toilet full of crap, still sitting in there from the day before.”

“Some people just don’t flush,” Hall said.

“Or there’s paper all of the floors,” Simmons added. “Come on now.”

In addition to the daily workload, Hall is responsible for fielding emergency calls from other buildings throughout the day to her team of seven custodians. Although Janice and her coworker don’t have access to a vehicle, they recall one assignment they were sent on involving a brown, sticky mess left for them on a staircase.

“It’s like we needed a facemask to clean it up,” Simmons said. “Those are the kinds of jobs we have to do.”

The praise they get is few far between, but it makes the miserable moments worthwhile.

“There will be a few students who will not even get out of your way and look down on you, but then you’ll pass one that will just look at you and say thank you,” Hall said.

“That always just makes you feel good.”

Structural, financial changes

The 168 custodians, 7 custodial supervisors and 14 assistant custodial supervisors are responsible for cleaning every building at the University, including housing. They’re the people who clean the 1,300 bathrooms on campus every day.

In July 2012, Facilities Operations merged with Campus Housing to operate under one blanket department: Facilities Services. It includes everything from maintenance and construction services, to business administration, to energy management.

Now, there are six zones on campus, each with a team of members from each component of Facilities Services.

Gavin Young, assistant director of strategic communications, said they combined to save the University labor costs. This means they also eliminated about 12 to 14 supervisor and director positions to “create a more streamlined organization.”

Simmons and Hall are still adjusting to the new zone system. Both were part of the Facilities Operations branch before it merged with housing.

Hall said the difference between the two is the times when each is busiest: housing zones can’t do a lot during the year because students live in the rooms, so they work on most projects in the summer. Hall’s zone does projects during holiday breaks.

“Even though it’s one now, it’s still kind of us and them because it’s so different,” Hall said.

Facilities Services is also one of five non-faculty “job families” in Phase One of the Classification and Market Study at the University, which was completed early last month. The study better defined job titles and developed a salary range that reflects similar jobs in the market.

CBIZ, the study’s consultant firm, recommended an annual starting salary for custodians of $22,000, which is below the US Department of Health and Human Service’s poverty guideline for a family of four by $1,550. However, the University raised the minimum salary to $24,000, with a maximum of $34, 181.37. Applicable pay increases were reflected in workers’ paycheck last week.

In addition to a salary, Facilities Services workers receive health, vision and dental insurance through the state, vacation and sick time, nine paid holidays per year, life insurance benefits and access to the gym in Robinson during certain times of day.

Before the Facilities Services merge, Simmons said there were periods of time when staff members’ salaries were frozen, or they were locked out of a raise.

Despite the study’s effects, Simmons said she feels she should be making more.

“Twenty-two years,” she said with a contemplative chuckle.

Motherly instinct

When Simmons was laid off from Scotch Cleaners, she found her custodial job through a brother who worked at the University. She had two children at the time and the generous health insurance benefits appealed to her.

Simmons has a spunky, motherly—and slightly intimidating—demeanor. She lives with one of her daughters, Patricia, and her three grandchildren, and after Simmons’ shift ends at 3 p.m. she manages an in-home daycare. Combined, she can have up to 13 kids running around her house on any one afternoon.

The people she visits with and the people she works with everyday are like family to her, too. Her coworker, a young mother of a one-and-a-half year old girl, often asks for Simmons’ parenting advice during their shifts together.

“I treat her like she’s my daughter,” Simmons said, smiling. “I try and keep her on track.”

Simmons isn’t just part of the backbone of the University: she’s the backbone of her family.

“They know mom’s a hard worker,” she said. “They respect that.”

Contributing to success

Anybody can clean, but it takes an eye for detail, patience and a good attitude to be a custodian. In the eight years Hall has been a supervisor, she said she’s seen some who claim they have experience, but lack these key qualities. She appreciates her team’s dedication.

“It’s nice working with a group of people that knows their jobs and they don’t have to be babysat,” she said. “I can count on them to get their work done.”

The amount and type of work Facilities Services does is what keeps the University running day to day.

“In a very small way, it’s our way of contributing and helping the students become successful,” Hall said. “Because if we’re not here…”

“The place would be, oh my God,” Simmons added. “I couldn’t imagine what the place would be if we wasn’t here.”

 

If you’re my JOUR 304 teacher and would like to see a copy of the voiceover script, click here.

Professor designs potential Lamborghini museum

Features, Special Sections Editor @ UDK

In the midst of the first week of classes and the second week of being an editor, I was handed this story, designed to be an 800+ word feature about this professor. When I showed up to the interview, Prof. Sander’s daughter was also there, to my surprise.

After talking to the pair, it turns out that the real story had little to do with the Lamborghini museum and everything to do with the father-daughter relationship these two have. Although I ended up with 64 minutes of audio to sift through, and I missed work due to it, I emerged from this hellish week with one of my best pieces of writing–scratch that, my best story–to date.

Professor designs potential Lamborghini museum

Automobile architect

Globe trotting students experience culture shock after returning from studying abroad

Features, Reporter @ UDK

Obviously, “culture shock” is something these study abroad students were prepared for when they journeyed to the other America for the summer. However, what they didn’t expect was difficulty transitioning back into “normal” life in the U.S.A. Even though it was a phone interview, when I asked Margo if she felt like anyone understood what she was going through, I could almost see her confused, if not a little pained, face as she struggled to find words. I think she stated it eloquently when she told me that normal life “doesn’t fit the same again.”

I also liked both girls’s answers to what the first thing they did when they got home was–Margo ate a mammoth American-style meal and Hannah chowed down on a traditional Mexican burrito.

Globe trotting students experience culture shock after returning from studying abroad

Globe trotting students experience culture shock after returning from studying abroad

Romantic rivals: Two young Kansans plan to marry

Features, Reporter @ UDK

This story is part of the summer relationship series for The Kansan. I enjoyed speaking to this couple–I really got a feel for their relationship and I tried to incorporate their laid-back attitude and competitive nature in the article. 

I also included some comments I found from the article that Emilyjane shared on her Facebook. That feedback made me feel like writing this couple’s story was worthwhile and meaningful.

Romantic Rivals: Two young Kansans plan to marry

Romantic rivals: Two young Kansans plan to marry


Facebook comments

Healthy eating can be a life-changing experience

Features, Reporter @ UDK

This story is the product of pure journalistic passion. A few days before I started, I met with The Kansan’s adviser, Malcolm Gibson, who simultaneously scared the hell out of me and re-ignited a love for reporting. I dove head-first into this story, asked the right questions and what I came away with is one of the best things I’ve written to date.

Healthy eating can be a life-changing experience

Healthy eating can be a life-changing experience