For many University of Oregon employees, spring term meant working from homes. However, as Jeff Butler, the director for Facilities Services, said, refrigerator technicians and custodians can’t work from home.
Facilities management employees continue to work on the UO campus, attending to maintenance projects and adapting to COVID-19 precautions.
“We’re doing things that haven’t been done in decades,” Butler said, taking on projects better suited for when the campus population is lower. More areas on campus are receiving sidewalk pressure washing, according to CPFM’s campus closures, shutdowns and detours notification center, including the entrance to Johnson Hall, Fenton and Friendly Hall and the plaza outside of Lillis Business Complex.
“It’s a pretty stark difference in this environment, with the mold growth and stuff like that, on the exterior buildings, when you knock that stuff off and say, ‘I didn’t know it was that color,’” he said.
Projects like pressure washing are better suited for when campus is emptier, Butler said, because of how disruptive it can be. Barricades have to be set up for safety reasons. “It's inconvenient for people,” he said. “So we're taking advantage of those situations in a big way.”
Butler said that Facilities Services hasn’t had to lay off any of its nearly 200 workers. According to an email from Greg Ottoman, the director of Housing Facilities Services, his department is a different story. Housing Facilities Services focuses on custodial work and maintenance in dorms. Out of an original 88 staff members, he said, his department laid off 18 workers.
That’s in large part due to the loss of revenue, with less residents returning for spring term. Ottoman said he hopes to be able to hire staff back, a decision that largely depends on the enrollment numbers for fall term.
Facilities Services works on projects relating to program maintenance, Butler said. That usually takes the form of painting and carpeting jobs which are also better suited when campus is empty. “One of our tasks is to inconvenience people as least as possible,” Butler said.
During the summer, Ottoman said, Housing Facilities Services staff prepare the dorms for fall term — cleaning, painting, maintenance and making sure furniture is in good condition.
“We do all that, and we typically hire quite a few students,” he said. “And we also bring in some temporary staff from a temporary agency in town. Because of the lack of revenue, we're not going to be able to do that.”
His staff have already begun work, Ottoman said, cleaning dorms that have already been vacated. Housing Facilities Services already began cleaning Hamilton Hall, he said, moving onto Riley and Barnhart Halls next. He said that Housing Facilities Services hopes to be completed by the first week of September.
Almost immediately, Butler said, his custodian workers’ focus shifted to wiping down high touch points in buildings like handrails and elevator buttons, rather than their typical focus on cleaning classrooms and public restrooms, which see less use.
Butler said that he’s trying to figure out what will be necessary once campus reopens. “Where do we come up with the resources once we have to start cleaning restrooms again?” he said.
Following UO’s decision to consolidate all on-campus residents into Global Scholars Hall and Kalapuya Ilihi, Ottoman said Housing Facilities Services custodians work to more aggressively clean high touch points in the dorms. “A lot of areas, we sanitize up to three times a day,” he said, focusing on the common areas in dorms, laundry rooms and the bathrooms on the main floor of GSH.
“So, on one side, we have less folks because of the reduction in revenue and the layoffs, and that we have, in some cases, more work to do,” Ottoman said. “That's an issue. And you know, the other reality is, we have — like everybody else — our staff has children that may or may not be in school right now. And so it's hard for them to come to work when they also have, you know, family issues they have to deal with at home.”
UO approved an additional 80 hours of sick leave, Ottoman said. That still can be a problem for his department, he said — when there’s less staff at work, there’s more responsibility on the workers who are on campus to keep up with sanitizing.
Housing Facilities Services have not canceled any projects, Ottoman said. Typically, he said, the department focuses on one larger-scale project in the summer. Last summer, it was the renovation of the Carson Hall floor lounges. The summer before that, workers renovated the rooms inside of Riley Hall.
This summer, he said, Housing Facilities Services will renovate Agate Apartments, replacing the stairs and the deck. “And we still plan to do that, because it’s something that we need to get done,” he said.
Both Ottoman and Butler said they’re proud of their staff during this time. “I would say facilities folks, by our nature, are pretty flexible, especially in stressful situations,” Butler said. “We are doers, by nature. We are problem solvers, by nature. Things like that just kind of play into our strengths.”