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Housekeeping Keeps UNH Running Clean

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
April 18, 2007

Annette Vachon points out the thing about housekeeping services that people probably never consider: most of the hard work is done while the rest of the university community is still asleep.

That’s because, for the majority of the staff, the day begins at 4 a.m.

The workday that is. For Vachon, a supervisor who oversees 19 employees and six academic buildings, it actually starts an hour or so earlier when she rolls out of bed to make it to Durham on time.

Lee Bissell has it a little better: she works 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. so she’s just getting up when Vachon is arriving. Bissell, who, like Vachon, started at UNH as a housekeeper, is now responsible for 17 buildings—primarily dorms—and 23 employers.

There are two other housekeeping supervisors as well.

Bissell’s crew works the 6 a.m. shift because they can’t get in the dorms much before then. Vacuuming doesn’t start until after 9 o’clock so they begin with the noiseless tasks like cleaning the more than 150 bathrooms in their area.

Most of the housekeepers and custodians who work under Vachon are on the 4 a.m. to noon shift. They tackle the classrooms, lecture halls and offices first thing, trying to get a jump on the day before students and faculty members start streaming in.

Cleaning and disinfecting the bathrooms tops the chore list. Next they empty the trash, clean the white or blackboards, dust, sweep or vacuum and set up chairs. It takes about 15 minutes to clean one room. The auditorium in Spaulding takes one person two hours.

“Our goal is to have all the major stuff done by 8 a.m.—the bathrooms; the classrooms,” Vachon says. “Then we start on the halls and the stairways. We try not to make it noisy for the students.”

The hardest part of the job, Vachon says, is when an employee needs to be spoken to.

“I like to praise everyone. I try to find the good in what they do,” Vachon says. “One of the things I like the most is seeing how in the last couple of years, my team has come together. They take a lot of pride in their work.”

She also offered praise for third-shift employees who work 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“They’re really working hard,” she says. And of all the workers, she adds, “People might see someone buffing a floor or running in the bathroom with toilet paper when, in fact, they’ve been doing the hardest part while everyone else is still in bed getting their best sleep.”

Linda Santor cleans the windows in the new housing office.

Bissell views her crew as “a big family.”

“We try to look out for each other and help each other,” she says.

It takes about eight hours to clean one building. In most of the dorms that’s done by one person. The high-rises like Williamson and Christensen have four housekeepers per building. Devine, Babcock, Hubbard and the mini-dorms have two.

During this week’s nor’easter, Vachon worked with a skeleton crew armed with wet vacs, mop buckets and puddle pumps to keep up with flooding on campus. Bissell spent some time manning a sump pump outside Randall Hall to divert the flow of water away from the building.

Vachon checks a sump pump in the Paul Creative Arts Center

“Randall likes to take on water and it leaks into the storage areas,” Bissell says. “We pumped it away from the building so it wouldn’t get into the students’ rooms.”

Because of the storm, bathrooms on Tuesday only got a “swipe and wipe.” Yesterday, the housekeepers were going through in teams to do a thorough cleaning of each one. Once a week, all of the bathrooms are “showered out”—sprayed top to bottom with disinfectant for a deep cleaning.

Special projects, like stripping the floors, are done late spring and during the summer. Cleaning the dorm rooms—housekeepers don’t enter the students’ rooms during the school year—begins the Saturday after graduation.

“Some people think we have it easy in the summer. They say, ‘what do you do all day?’ But that’s our busiest time,” Bissell says.

That’s because the dorms have to be cleaned and made ready for summer occupants, people who come for conferences, camps and special events.

“Sometimes we might have a week and sometimes it might be the next day,” Bissell says. “The end of the summer, it slows down a little and we clean the carpets and the windows, inside and out. Then it’s time for the students to come back and it starts all over again.”

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