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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Housekeepers stretched thin in academic buildings

A trash can overflowing in Merion Hall at 5:57 p.m. Jan. 17. PHOTO: THE HAWK

As prospective St. Joe’s students and their guests were arriving on Hawk Hill Feb. 25 for Admitted Students Day, Merion Hall wasn’t ready: Trash cans sat unemptied and bathroom  floors and stall doors were in need of deep cleaning.

It was a day for “making a positive and lasting impression of our amazing locations and community,” according to a Feb. 21 email to faculty and staff from Liz Kennedy Walsh, senior vice president for enrollment management in the Office of Marketing and Communications.

“In the spirit of partnership, I ask you all to prepare your own corners of our beautiful facilities for our visitors on Sunday,” Kennedy Walsh wrote. “Whether it be tidying your lab or office, making sure classrooms are free of clutter, or warmly greeting visiting families, each of us can contribute to putting our best foot forward.”

While the trash cans were eventually emptied and bathrooms wiped down by mid-morning of Admitted Students Day, for St. Joe’s housekeeping workers, putting their best foot forward has been routinely difficult since at least 2020.

In 2020, the university switched to a new contracted custodial firm, ABM Industries Inc., instead of renewing their contract with the Arthur Jackson Company. After this change, housekeeping staff were laid off, and the campus cleaning schedule was restructured to accommodate fewer workers. 

St. Joe’s remaining housekeeping workers have been stretched thin since then. They did not want to speak to The Hawk on the record for fear of losing their jobs.

St. Joe’s contract with ABM Industries Inc. was extended to include the University City campus after the 2022 merger with University of the Sciences.

The problem seems to have grown worse this academic year, with trash often piling up and overflowing in cans in the Merion Hall Atrium. The Hawk recently tracked one trash can in a busy first floor hallway where rotting food sat for over a week, the stench filling the space around it. This garbage was not removed until Admitted Students Day.

Tim McGuriman, associate vice president of administrative services, said trash in academic buildings is taken out based on need in all rooms except common areas where it is collected daily.

“Trash pickup times vary by building,” McGuriman wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk. “In common areas, trash is picked up once a day, Monday through Friday. Trash is picked up in other areas based on demand.”

The Hawk’s investigation in Merion Hall showed that trash in common areas was not being removed daily during the week.

Agnes Blisard, administrative assistant for the department of theology and religious studies, the department of modern and classical languages and the department of mathematics, said the number of cleanings by custodians in Bellarmine Hall, where she also serves as a building liaison, has decreased over time.

Blisard said custodians used to empty the building’s trash cans every day, and that the janitors would regularly clean offices, including monthly vacuumings and occasional furniture cleansings.

“Since my transfer to Bellarmine in April of 2020, dusting and vacuuming service, once rare, is now virtually nonexistent in my departments,” Blisard wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk.

Elizabeth McCreight, assistant to the dean of the School of Education and Human Development and building liaison for Merion Hall, said faculty and staff in Merion have stepped up to compensate for the decrease in services and to assist housekeeping staff.

“The staff and faculty have taken out trash, empty recyclable cans to the dumpster and try to maintain Merion Hall Suite Areas, common spaces and bathrooms throughout the building,” McCreight wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk.

McCreight confirmed only one custodial worker cleans during the day in Merion. 

McCreight said Merion Hall has six bathrooms, 30 classrooms and 104 offices throughout 16 office suites, in addition to the Atrium and Einstein Bros. Bagels. 

Blisard confirmed only one worker cleans during the day in Bellarmine as well.

McGuriman said part of the post-2020 schedule changes involved a larger responsibility being placed on the night time workers.  

“The biggest change we made involves when facilities are cleaned,” McGuriman wrote. “Now, the vast majority of cleaning occurs overnight. We made this change as it is safer for the custodians, more efficient and less disruptive.”

But The Hawk found that in some buildings, a single worker is assigned to overnight cleaning. As during the day, this scheduling has resulted in increased workloads that are difficult to complete and little time for deep cleaning.

In residence halls, McGuriman emphasized that no changes have been made to residential cleaning schedules.

“It is important to note that residential hall cleaning frequency has never changed,” McGuriman wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk. “Common areas such as lobbies, entryways, hallways and lounges are cleaned five times per week; bathrooms and kitchenettes, daily; and offices are cleaned every two weeks.”

The Hawk spoke to students living in several residence halls on Hawk Hill and found that many bathrooms in first-year residence halls had problems with overflowing trash.  

Blisard emphasized she does not believe the problems in her building are caused by poor work from custodians.

“To be fair, if one person is supposed to handle cleaning for an entire building, or sometimes two buildings, I can’t say problems are due to lack of effort,” Blisard said.

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Vincent Kornacki
Vincent Kornacki, News Editor
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