Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman custodial staff covers lots of ground

Whitman custodians cover almost twice the recommended amount of square footage per day: but said it’s all in a day’s work.

While larger campuses like WSU maintain an extensive staff and come closer to the optional industry guideline of 20,000 square feet per person each day, custodians at Whitman have to prioritize.

“It’s doable. We have to learn to adapt, to know what’s important and what people notice,” said Maxey Hall custodian Laura Ealy, who has worked at Whitman for 18 years. “Whitman keeps adding space. They’ve added four or five buildings since I’ve been here. It’s a really small staff compared to other places.”

Custodial Supervisor Kevin Wright, a Whitman alumnus, expects to expand his team as renovations progress in the next few years. Since he began working at Whitman in 1989, the staff responsible for academic buildings has grown from a handful of workers to a group of 16, with one extra “floater” to cover absences. There 12 others covering residential halls.

“Staffing has improved,” Ealy said. “For the first 10 years I was here, we didn’t have that floater, so an area might get minimal or no service if someone was out sick.”

“It’s a daily battle to get things cleaned,” Wright said. “When I was a student, there were roofs that leaked when it rained. The facilities have changed a lot. I think the environment is better than it used to be.”

Wright said his staff is not paid based on square footage. Rather, the college uses a system of cost comparison to determine wages, examining the wages of custodians at other area colleges and in the Walla Walla community. Associate Dean of Students Nancy Tavelli described the wages as “competitive.”

“It’s not bad. It could be better,” Ealy said of the pay. “There’s always room for improvement. We’ve tried to make it comparable.”

The benefits package, however, “makes up for any lacks in pay” according to Ealy, and includes health coverage and tuition remission. New custodian Vanessa Wetter said the benefit package at Whitman was “one of the main reasons I came.”

Custodians also say relationships with staff, faculty and students are important factors.

“The staff is really Whitman-oriented with a good rapport,” Ealy said. Whitman uses a “zone-cleaning” method in which custodians are responsible for one building or area.

“I have a relationship with some students who spend a lot of time in the building,” Ealy said, describing a friendship with one student who often comes to Maxey in search of Coca-Cola bottle caps.

“Each building has its own personality,” said custodian Jim French.

Custodians in residence halls also build relationships with students and frequently meet with RAs. In the past two years, the school has begun doing a complex review of custodians, a rarity at college campuses.

“It’s unusual; it makes it more educational,” Tavelli said. The reviews include student input, peer- and self-evaluations and supervisor assessments.

“Some days are harder than others,” Ealy said. “But since I’ve been here, I’ve watched at least three custodians retire, some of whom worked here for 20 to 30 years.”

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