Facilities workers ramp up as census drops
The countdown is almost over for Housing and Hospitality Services (HHS) and its on-campus team of roughly 120 campus electricians, plumbers, project managers, carpenters, heating and air conditioning mechanics, building maintenance workers and administrative assistants in motion up on the Hill.
Workers move furniture in and out of residence halls as the Hill gets ready to welcome conference guests and sports campers.
Staff are racing against the clock this week to wipe away a year’s worth of wear-and-tear and restore the gleam to approximately 5,000 sleeping rooms, eight dining halls and kitchens, numerous study lounges, auditoriums, community and private restrooms, and public spaces in 25 buildings — just as conference guests and sports campers arrive with their luggage.
"It's a lot of work," said housekeeper Juan Becerra as he pushed towering carts filled with new towels and sheets in Rieber Terrace. "But we have to go through this every year. Everybody has to work hard."
What many consider the quietest time in the life of the campus is the busiest for hundreds of facilities workers who take advantage of empty dorms, closed auditoriums, half-filled parking lots and darkened classrooms to repair what's broken and do preventive maintainence on what's not.
Like the general of a seasoned army of tradespeople who must march in unison to get the annual job done in time, Alfred Nam, director of the Rooms Division of HHS, deploys workers to tackle more than 100 tasks listed on a three-page Excel spreadsheet — from painting 2,500 rooms and washing hundreds of dirty windows to steam-cleaning miles of carpeting. Helping with some of this heavy lifting are services hired by HHS.
Facilities Management staff prepare to put in trenches at Parking Lot 11. With fewer cars on campus, the work in parking structures and lots can get done.
Nam operates on two levels: the big picture — such as replacing two huge boilers for Delta Terrace and Canyon Point — and the detailed "little" picture. That’s fixing the floor drain in a men’s restroom in Rieber Hall, cleaning the grill in Hedrick Hall kitchen, cleaning the exhaust fans in Covel and "repairing damages found in rooms after the students check out, including holes in walls, holes in doors …" The list seems endless.
As the campus reaches "low census" with fewer people around, the intense push to fix and replace spills over from the Hill to the entire campus.
"We tend to get a lot of work done when nobody’s around," said Leroy Sisneros, director of Maintenance and Alterations in Facilities Management (FM), who leads a team of 780 people, many of whom are working in closed classrooms, theaters and auditoriums during this interval.
Sisneros’ crews of custodial workers and skilled tradespeople work around the clock in three shifts year round. But when classrooms and auditoriums go dark for this brief period until Summer Sessions starts June 24, the teams ramp up to complete work that can’t be done at any other time.
With the Covel Commons dining hall closed, workers can clean out vents, break down and clean dishwashers and grills and do other jobs that can't be done at any other time.
"We’re dealing with thousands of little things and hundreds of big things," said Sisneros, who must achieve a delicate balance juggling repairs and preventive maintenance with 19 ongoing projects in buildings all over campus and unexpected emergencies — flooded buildings due to broken water pipes, for one.
Batteries on the omnilocks on 250 classroom doors have to be changed; floors in more than 100 classrooms have to be stripped and waxed. Annual maintenance needs to be done on the lifts that move stages up and down in Royce, Schoenberg and Macgowan halls. Scaffolding needs to be erected so that lighting in auditoriums with high ceilings can be changed. And the fire sprinkler heads in all 5,000 rooms in the residence halls need to be replaced as part of ongoing maintenance.
Changing a belt on an air handler is one of hundreds of jobs that needs to be done as part of preventive maintanance.
With classrooms closed, custodians use the "downtime" to wipe down every seat and handrail and do detailed cleaning and maintenance work in restrooms, Sisneros said.
Another 200 groundskeepers, utility engineers, architects, designers, construction superintendents and project managers in Facilities Management are working in Design, Project Management and Operations, a unit directed by Jerry Markham.
During the next two weeks, groundskeepers will be removing landscaping from the Ackerman turnaround so that construction fencing can be erected for the demolition of Parking Structure 6 and the construction of the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center.
All of it, including the beautiful "Forever Young" yellow roses, named to honor Chancellor Emeritus Charles E. Young and his late wife, Sue, will be transplanted to new locations, Markham said.
"We keep re-inventing and re-using what we have, instead of just throwing mature plants away," he said. The low level of activity also allows his crews to refurbish the well-trampled Intramural and North Athletic fields, where the popular soccer team, Real Madrid, will practice later this summer. Also on Markham’s summer to-do list: tree-trimming, classroom and office upgrades and remodels, seismic strengthening of two parking structures and installing energy-conserving devices in offices.
To get this volume of work completed in a week, two weeks or during the summer requires smart planning and preparation.
"It’s always tense," Markham said, "but we are able to execute a large volume of work because we are thinking proactively. "Low census during summer presents an opportunity. By doing all of our planning up front, we can get a lot of work done so that, by September, the campus is put back together and we aren’t at DEFCON 1."
"For me, it’s a challenge," Sisneros said. "I think my staff works better when we have these mountains to climb. If we climb them together, we tend to be successful."
All of this energy that goes into keeping the campus looking nice and functioning well reflects the pride that their employees have in working for UCLA, they said. "Many of the people here are very committed to the university," said Sisneros. "They want this campus to be the best."