DIRTY BUSINESS: NAU grows, but janitor numbers stay the same

2011-10-27T09:05:00Z DIRTY BUSINESS: NAU grows, but janitor numbers stay the sameSun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
October 27, 2011 9:05 am  • 

The buildings are going up -- to the tune of 35 percent more floor space in just six years.

Students are going up -- 5,000 more since 2005, a jump of 40 percent.

But the number of janitors -- about 140 -- is flat.

Put those trends together, and a fast-growing campus like Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff isn't going to be as clean as it once was.

"We maintain a good level of hygiene and cleanliness because it's important," said Brian Chase, associate vice president for Capital Assets and Services. "It just isn't quite the higher standard you'd like to have."

Campus officials say that high-visibility, high-use areas like labs, lobbies and restrooms are still being cleaned daily.

But there were some cutbacks starting this fall: Office trash is emptied once per week and the floors are vacuumed as needed. Stairwells are cleaned once per month instead of daily or near daily. Hallways are mopped three times per week.

Although classroom cleaning is still daily, table and desktops are wiped down once per week. And the university generally no longer brings in day laborers to round out the corps of regular custodians.

Nor has NAU added much to its regular custodian base in the face of the building boom. At 54,000 square feet apiece, each janitor has about 5,000 more square feet to cover.

Chase, whose division oversees grounds, custodial and maintenance and the campus' many construction projects, said it would be a challenge to find a really dirty patch of campus. Cutbacks have been prioritized to protect the public and student spaces as much as possible. Other university professionals with whom he's met to explain the cuts have basically understood, he added.

"Everyone understood that if we didn't cut back on support services like grounds and custodial we'd be cutting back on instructors, so I think the university's got its priorities in the right place," he said.

CUTS THROUGH ATTRITION

Each vice president was instructed to find 4 percent of his or her division's budget for reductions this year.

For Capital Assets, which represents about 7 percent of the overall university budget, that came out to about $300,000. Much of that was achieved by cutting custodial positions through attrition and cutting back on the temporary workers. About five or six temporary custodians could once be found on campus at any given time. The division also left some groundskeeper positions vacant.

The custodians who work the dining halls and dorms have not been affected, because food service and residence life are self-supporting departments that get their money directly from food sales and rents. Academic and support buildings -- which are the responsibility of about 140 mostly full-time janitors -- are where the state cuts happen. Chase said this is about as far as he'd like to go with the custodial cutbacks, and any future cutbacks would come from other areas.

Currently, NAU has more than 4 million square feet of floor space in its 82 academic and support buildings on the Mountain Campus. In 2005, there were 75 buildings covering about 2.9 million square feet. About 20 percent of that square footage is classrooms.

In addition to a square footage growth of about 35 percent, there's more students on campus -- more people after whom to clean up. In 2005, the Flagstaff campus had about 12,600 students. It currently has more than 17,700.

Custodial staffing is only slightly higher, though.

"We didn't see a budget increase because of the new space coming online," Chase said.

BATHROOMS AT ISSUE

There have been some compromises. To make up for the less frequent service, faculty areas have gotten an extra trash bin to collect food waste, and those cans are emptied daily. It wasn't long ago that their offices were cleaned as much as three times a week.

Also, Cline Library uses its student workers to do some spot cleaning on the weekends.

Chase's division is on track to continue renovations, including about $6 million over the next two years to upgrade at least 120 classrooms across campus. He's heard some complaints about the cleaning schedule, but more people are concerned with the bathrooms. He's considering adding back some day shift janitors to give some of the more used bathrooms, and classrooms, a second daily cleaning.

"If you don't clean a stairwell every day and you get some dust bunnies, that's acceptable," he said.

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

Then and now

2005: 75 buildings (academic and support), 2.9 million sq. ft.; 12,600 students

2011: 82 buildings, 4 million sq. ft.; 17,700 students

Growth at NAU

Year/Building/Floor space (sq. ft)

2005: Communications 96,529

2006: Engineering and Natural Sciences 89,979

W.A. Franke College of Business 108,016

2007: Science Lab Facility 101,078

Applied Research and development 59,623

2009: Extended Campuses 29,243

2011: Health and Learning Center 270,000

Native American Cultural Center 12,650

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(2) Comments

  1. garyobrien
    Report Abuse
    garyobrien - October 27, 2011 11:49 pm
    I can hear her now... Mary Nuñez, the long-time custodian and surrogate mother to hundreds of NAU underclassmen who resided in Taylor Hall in the 1970s and '80s would have had a thing or two to say about this. I am sure, if she were still with us, students and staff would be filling in as we speak to keep the facilities just so, under her expert direction.
  2. Joseph
    Report Abuse
    Joseph - October 27, 2011 9:39 pm
    And this is news? It is no different any staff or faculty. Has NAU hired professors since it's enrollment has jumped? What about more cops or more electricians. It's called hard times.
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