Crews work behind scenes to keep campus running smoothly

Years ago when I was pursuing various higher-level administrative positions, I would have an arranged set of interviews whenever I visited a campus. I met with administrators, faculty, staff, students and benefactors. However, I would always "throw a wrench" in the interview process by asking to meet with facility management staff - the people who worked in maintenance, housekeeping and groundskeeping.

Why? I wanted to meet with this important group of people because they knew the institution, literally, from the ground up. Their insight into the state of the institution always played a large role in my decision of whether or not to accept an offer, should one be made. These are the people behind the scenes who are rarely noticed, but whose absence would close the institution. They fix, they clean, they build, they groom. They repair, they replace, they restore, they solve. Without them, none of us could succeed at what we do. This is their column.

Jay L. Stuart is the director of campus services at Benedictine University. He is responsible for ensuring that the 109-year-old, 108-acre campus is in pristine condition while remaining functional and friendly. He interacts on a daily basis with his seven managers and conducts a formal meeting weekly with his entire crew of 38 employees. Stuart ensures that the university runs smoothly. Stuart has a comfortable relationship with his employees and ensures that they have the equipment they need to work more efficiently. His employees appreciate his efforts on their behalf.

Last year, Stuart received the Benedictine Life Award, the highest honor the university bestows upon an employee or community member. The Benedictine Life Award is presented to the employee who has fostered the spirit of community among employees, who has demonstrated the Benedictine qualities of life by helping to create a warm and hospitable atmosphere in the work world, and who has demonstrated the balanced spirit of prayer, work and creative leisure in his or her own life.

Campus services is divided into three divisions - grounds, maintenance and housekeeping. Some of Stuart's employees arrive at work as early as 4 a.m. The 11-member maintenance crew oversees heating, ventilation, controls, air-conditioning, plumbing, painting, light construction (a carpenter is on staff) and maintaining lights inside and outside buildings. Some days are a challenge. Maintenance Manager Art Rutherford and his crew describe themselves as the "fix-it guys." They keep the campus in good working order and often anticipate work so something does not become a problem. Danny Kazak, the maintenance crew member responsible for fire safety and locks and keys, has been at Benedictine University longer than anyone in campus services. He started more than 35 years ago.

Grounds Manager Peter Charcut and his six employees cut the grass from early spring until the first frost. They also clear leaves almost as soon as they fall. During winter months, if the National Weather Service issues an alert to a blizzard or storm, the grounds crew often stays after their shift is over, grabbing a nap before clearing the snow from parking lots and campus roads before students and faculty arrive. Neighboring streets may be blocked with snow, but the campus is clear.

The grounds crew concentrates its efforts toward creating a beautiful campus, pruning bushes and trees, planting new sod, filling in potholes and maintaining the athletic fields. It is hard not to smile when driving on the Benedictine campus. Turn in at the light on College Road and you are welcomed by a long bed of flowers. During the summer months, bright and colorful flowers are near and between buildings. In the fall, white and deep red mums fill all sizes of pots near buildings.

Two times each year, the grounds crew sponsors a Campus Beautification Day. Faculty and staff are invited to wear comfortable clothes and plant and clear areas all over campus. I enjoy donning overalls and digging into the dirt. I go from place to place on campus just to have the opportunity to work with different groups of faculty and staff members who appreciate a beautiful campus as much as I do. During the most recent Campus Beautification Day on Oct. 12, we planted more than 5,000 tulip bulbs that will greet us in the spring.

Housekeeping Manager Gil Leon and his assistant, Marianna Rodriguez, oversee 21 employees who work three shifts cleaning offices, classrooms, restrooms and carpets. Each shift also works one weekend a month. Leon, having worked in the corporate world, says that working at Benedictine is "like a breath of fresh air." "It is a real community," he said.

Housekeeping begins cleaning the residence halls and shampooing carpets the day after graduation in May. Working around summer camps and other summer visitors, they finish the residence halls before the students return in late August. They shampoo the carpets again and perform their regular cleaning maintenance during the Christmas holidays, and clean and disinfect bathrooms and public areas two to three times each day when not cleaning the residence halls.

In addition to grounds, maintenance and housekeeping, campus services is also responsible for managing construction projects on campus.

"One week you are tearing down a building and the next week you are building out the lower level of a comparatively new building for more offices and classrooms," said Chad Treisch, project director of the planning, design and construction section of the campus services department at Benedictine. "The week after that, you are laying a new athletic center basketball floor. It's an exciting and interesting place to work."

As the campus has grown, Treisch, an eight-year veteran at Benedictine, has seen his workload increase and the technology he uses to perform his job become more complex. Treisch's assistant, Eric Nordlund, said the challenges that must be met and adapting to the tools to meet those challenges are the most interesting parts of working here.

"You are forced to continue to grow and stretch by doing new things that eventually become part of your everyday life," he said. "It's certainly never dull."

We have good people all over campus - teaching in classrooms, working in offices and maintaining the "behind the scenes" areas to provide a pleasant environment. Whether behind the scenes or in front of the class, we are all part of the Benedictine community.

• William J. Carroll is president of Benedictine University in Lisle. His column appears monthly during the school year.

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