Maintenance teams step up with increased sanitation measures, decreased staff in residence halls

Chris Slattery, a K-State custodial specialist, works to clean up water in the basement of Seaton Hall on May 4, 2015. (Archive Photo by George Walker | Collegian Media Group)

Once students leave for break, maintenance teams have their work cut out for them, with increased sanitation tasks and decreased staff caused by budget constraints.

Skyler Harper, associate director of the Department of Housing and Dining Services’ facility management, said they have a very busy month coming up.

This semester, many dorms got new Synexis machines, which are designed to reduce unwanted microorganisms by filtering the air.

“These Synexis are an air-purifying system that we put into a lot of the rooms. It not only filters the air, but it also purifies the air with dry hydrogen peroxide, which kills viruses and bacteria,” Harper said.

Kerry Jennings, senior manager of maintenance shops for Housing and Dining Services, said the machines do more than just kill viruses.

“The Synexis machines do a tremendous job in keeping the pathogens balance at a lower level to help prevent other diseases and mold,” Jennings said. “It’s not just about a virus, these devices are full encompassing with everything.”

However, for these machines to work properly, it is important to change out the various filters, William Barss, senior operations manager for Housing and Dining Services, said

“It’s important that change the air filters around three times a year to the dust and allergens under control, it also helps the units not get clogged up,” Barss said. “Once the systems become clogged up, they don’t operate effectively and sometimes they don’t operate at all.”

Harper credited Synexis and students’ precautions with helping keep the COVID-19 cases down in on-campus housing relative to the surrounding community.

“The science is there on the Synexis machines, as far as what it will do,” Harper said. “But I think that the students who live with us have done a good job of doing what they should be doing, like social-distancing, mask and following the procedures. That’s led to our numbers to be relatively good compared to the city.”

Harper said academic breaks are usually times when his team can deep clean areas such as bathrooms, high-contact areas and the residence halls.

“We pay attention to things that we didn’t have as much time for during the semester,” Harper said. “We’re also during more installations of more of the Synexis machines, we’re also doing a lot more sanitation with the electrostatic sprayer, which puts a virus-killing disinfectant on the surfaces. Since the students are away, we can usher them in more areas.”

Despite having to keep up with increased sanitation measures, Harper’s housekeeping team is around 25 percent smaller because they had to cut back on their budget.

“The housing department is self-funded, when we have fewer students, we have less funds,” Harper said. “This pandemic has been interesting because we’ve increased sanitation tasks, I’ve put on a student sanitation crew that does work on the weekends to increase the sanitation that we do.”

Jennings said maintenance is short-staffed by about 35 percent.

“Throughout the semester we mow about 40 acres of grass every week, and now that’s a two-person job, because we don’t have the flexibility right now with the budget,” Jennings said. “It does make it more of a challenge and a process, but for the most part it’s going pretty well, but obviously we could use more people.”

However, Barss said his team stepped up to the challenge, with some people covering two or three areas who are normally covering just one.

“Our staff has been amazing and when someone is falling behind, then people from other areas are quick to lend a hand to help,” Barss said. “It’s like one big family and I appreciate them so much because they go unrecognized, but their responsibility is high, and I appreciate them every day for everything they do.”

Ultimately, Barss said he wants to treat the students like his own kids and make sure they have everything they need to succeed.

“These students are our kids, we want to give them the best possible facilities for their studies, for their living and for their life,” Barss said. “There’s so much more to school than just the books, there’s so many friendships that are made in our facilities.”