Stretched too thin: Custodians feel understaffed as college grows

There+are+currently+61+custodians+employed+by+Facilities+Operations.+Photo+by+Elle+Cox+21

There are currently 61 custodians employed by Facilities Operations. Photo by Elle Cox ’21

Jane Collins

The arts campus down the hill has been growing over the years, and its upkeep has been the responsibility of one individual: Joe Swarctz.

Swarctz, a custodian with facilities operations for eight years, is in charge of the maintenance for the arts campus, an area that has quadrupled in size in his time here. However, Swarctz said he has never received more custodial help.

“Because when I first started here it was just this building, and then 248 opened up, then Buck [Hall], now they’re starting to serve lunch at The Spot,” he said.

Facilities operations is currently budgeted for 66 full time custodial employees, Director of Facilities Bruce Ferretti said. Currently, they have only 61 full-time custodians.

Swarctz said that there have been new hires made by the college, but that they don’t keep up with the number of staff retiring, leaving or taking medical leave. He explained that on his shift alone there are two staff members on medical leave after injuring themselves. One has been out since September, and no one has been hired at least temporarily to make up the difference.

Vice President of Finance and Administration Roger Demareski said that the school doesn’t backfill positions for custodians that are only out temporarily, but that they make that decision on a case by case basis. If a custodian is out sick, or on disability leave, often other custodial staff will be asked to pick up the extra work.

“There are times and there are certain buildings where folks are picking up for others and that’s just sort of normal business for any institution, not just Lafayette,” Demareski said.

Another member of Swarctz’s shift is retiring in September, and Swarctz believes they will still be down on staffing come then. He also expressed concern for the custodial staff in charge of dorms, believing that group to be down “5 or 6 people.”

“We’re understaffed all over,” he added.

Bonnie Marina, the custodian responsible for the Alpha Phi and Pi Beta Phi sorority houses, expressed similar sentiments as Swarctz. When asked if she feels comfortable with the number of custodians employed by the school for dorms at the moment, she shook her head and replied “Not at all.”

Marina has been an employee of the college for six years and says the issue has been getting worse.

“We’re covering like 3 or 4 buildings a day, and it isn’t fair to the students,” Marina said.

Marina feels that when students come back after holidays, during move in weekends, and other “special times,” things are especially difficult on the custodial staff.

Changing seasons greatly affect custodial duties, but Swarctz feels like the winter months and snow removal is taken care of effectively.

Facilities operations, grounds shop, mechanical trades shop, general trade shop, and others are split into groups responsible for different areas of campus and different times for snow removal, according to Ferretti. Both Swarctz and Ferretti believe snow removal is taken care of appropriately.

In the summer, however, Swarctz encounters issues that would be alleviated by additional help. “Come summertime, seeing as we’re right near the creek there’s a lot of bugs and spiders and they get all over the windows and to try and handle windows and cleaning up all that kind of stuff is just kind of, it just gets crazy.”

Swarctz says he has made his situation clear before, and that administrators are aware of his concerns.

“I’ve stressed [the situation], and they know my situation down here.” When asked if he feels he’s being listened to, he says, “Who knows?” Demareski said that they are planning on looking into getting more help for Swarctz at the arts campus.

Marina said that when custodians express their concerns they are told the school “doesn’t have the money” or “they aren’t hiring right now, you get the same story all the time.”

Ferretti, however, felt differently. “We believe that at this time Facilities Operations is adequately staffed to provide the desired services,” he said.

Demareski echoes Ferretti’s beliefs, explaining that the school has completed two studies in the last three years affirming that there is an appropriate number of custodians in Facilities Operations. The studies, the most recent completed in 2017, compare Lafayette to other institutions to determine if staffing is adequate.

“I think we’re appropriately staffed. The custodians do a great job, but like all of us we’re all asked to try to pick up as much as we can because we’re dedicating our resources in other areas but I don’t think we have a staffing issue in custodial [areas],” Demareski said.

Kathryn Kelly ’19 contributed reporting.