Empty campus allows for major overhaul of UW spaces

Windows and blinds so clean that they sparkle. Every upholstered seat in Meany Hall cleaned and disinfected. Stripped and waxed floors; fresh paint and new carpeting installed. These are the scenes across campus, from Architecture to Winkenwerder Halls and dozens of buildings in-between.

If these walls could talk

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Cu Ho

Cu Ho cleans chairs in the South Campus Center. Photo by Sue Nand

Custodians and maintenance staff from UW Facilities have been working on this unprecedented overhaul since the pandemic began. While COVID-19 has been a time of hardship and isolation for so many, limited in-person classes and the shutdown of most activities have allowed for the opportunity to improve the safety and cleanliness of UW classrooms and other spaces.

“The campus will be as clean as it has ever been in its history,” says UWF Building Services Director Gene Woodard.

Building Services staff are focusing on disinfecting and deep cleaning learning and departmental spaces as well as window blind sanitization and cleaning, stripping and waxing floors, refrigerator and microwave cleaning, and of course enhanced disinfecting and cleaning in between classes.

“We’re getting so much work done,” says UWF Maintenance & Construction Deputy Director John Carroll. “This is the first time we’ve been able to upgrade and refresh buildings because there are always people on campus. We’re taking advantage of the campus being relatively empty.” 

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Shop 54

Ben Davis gives a fresh coat of paint to the stairwells and railings in the Art Building. Chris Arevalo installs new carpet in Hutchinson Hall. Both men are employees in Facilities’ Shop 54. Photos by John Eckhouse

The Building Refresh Program has allowed Facilities construction staff to complete 50 work orders in 31 different buildings. The variety of projects include painting common spaces, LED retrofits in key areas, pressure washing, woodwork repair, new carpet installations, floor refinishing in offices and labs, and a number of other important improvements.

“We want people to walk into a building and see a world-class university,” Carroll says.



Safety first

Carroll praises Woodard for his focus on keeping employees safe throughout the pandemic. “Gene has set the gold standard for safety and lets people know that following safety protocols is of paramount importance to him and his staff.” 

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Francis Garcia

Francis Garcia, a custodian who works in the Population Health building, has worked for the UW for five years. “I enjoy working with my friends. We always remember the three golden Ws—wash your hands, wear your mask and watch for six feet apart.” Photo by Francis Garcia

Custodian Francis Garcia echoes the importance of safety. “We always remember the three golden Ws—wash your hands, wear your mask and watch for six feet apart.”

Garcia focuses on disinfecting and cleaning frequently-used surfaces, or touch points, including door handles, elevator buttons and stair railings. He knows that his work helps keep campus staff, students, faculty and visitors safe.

“We are here to do our tasks and help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” says Garcia. “We are happy to serve the frontline staff and to be at your service to keep the campus healthy at all times.” 


Isaac Cleveland

Isaac Cleveland II scrubs the floor before wax will be applied. Photo by Scott Spencer

The importance of keeping his crews safe is not lost on Daniel Jung, either. The window washer supervisor says that with about half of his colleagues on furlough, it’s been challenging to keep up with work requests.

“Aside from the added PPE needed to help curb the spread of COVID-19, there isn’t very much that has changed,” says Jung. “One of the major advantages is that almost all the students are learning through Zoom so the student population on campus is close to nil. This in turn, has made it easier to access various areas around campus that normally we would have to schedule during academic breaks.” 

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ADA cleaning

Touchpoints, or frequently used surfaces, are cleaned throughout the day.

Jung would like to ask that people not touch or post anything on glass. “Also, please thank and show your gratitude to those who are on the frontlines and at UW every day to ensure that campus is continually a safe place for everyone.”

Safety is also top of mind for Kristine Paul, a 20-year veteran of the UW who works as a custodian in Architecture Hall. She says that while masks are required on campus, not everyone is following proper protocol and wearing them. 

“We’re doing more cleaning and disinfecting daily, and sometimes hourly, and extra sanitary measures are in place. But mask-wearing applies everywhere on campus,” Paul says.

Every seat in Meany Hall

The relative stillness doesn’t come without drawbacks. Like so many of us, the common thread of missing interactions with humanity runs deep in a department in which friendships are abundant and steadfast.

Elvi Olano, a custodian in Area E, says the favorite part of her job is being around her co-workers, whom she considers her friends. The 69-year-old works in North Campus, where she helps keep the Art Building and Hutchinson Hall looking sharp. 

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Elvi Olano

Elvi Olano says she enjoys working with friends, but misses the ability to share a hug or lunch with them. Photo by Georgina Tabasan

Olano says, “I enjoy work because I have many friends in Facilities. I get to see them and we work together but we don’t stay near each other. We’ve stopped having close huddles, but we enjoyed them because Gene lets us express our feelings in huddles and this helps us cope.”

The work continues with a distinct level of personal pride running through employees.

Peter Bakkedahl, Custodial Manager for Area D, has overseen projects large and small.

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Michael Henricksen

Michael Henricksen, a custodian in Area C, cleans blinds with a special ultrasound machine. Photo by Scott Spencer

“Sometimes small things like blinds can be overlooked but with as many as there are on campus it’s a very unique experience,” Bakkedahl says. 

“We also started disinfecting and cleaning the upholstery of each chair in the main theater in Meany Hall in late February. The Theater has approximately 1,200 seats and during “normal times” we can only manage to walk through and clean the visibly soiled chairs, but now we have had the opportunity to clean every seat. The work is being completed by custodians Joyce and Ben, and they’ve done an awesome job with such a large, time-consuming project.”

Woodard says, “When this project began, our Customer Care team received about 500 requests for work orders. By the start of fall quarter we hope to have completed all of those requests. I’m looking forward to once again being able to personally visit and support teams and individuals.”