No one takes the day-to-day upkeep of campus more seriously than Roy Pundt and “a.m. team three.”
“We’re on the front line,” the CSU building services manager says as he unlocks a few buildings for his custodian team. “We provide health and safety of the buildings.”
The custodians of “team three” arrive at 4:30 a.m, well before the sun brings a new school day to the CSU campus. But Roy, 50, and his lead custodian, Clint Brink, 28, met at their office in Yates Hall at 3:45 a.m. to prepare for their team’s arrival.
Another nine teams will clean the 107 building on campus during the early morning and into the night. All told it’s about 120 janitors that guard 25,000 plus students from the germs and filth garnered by the daily use of CSU buildings.
And for “Team Three” it’s their camaraderie and friendships that get them through their underappreciated job.
“These guys are the best group I’ve ever worked with,” says Roy, who has worked for CSU facilities for the past 17 years. “And they’re starting to become family.”
This family includes Janet Puckett, 52. Everybody on the team calls her “Trouble.”
Puckett has ten years of college education under her utility belt and has spent time in the field studying paleontology. She wears disinfectant in a holster as she tromps from task to task.
Steve Colunga, 61, is a cheerful worker often found whistling as he cleans. He has three children — all of whom hold degrees from CSU.
Will Conklin, 49, whistles more than Steve. He’s an avid golfer.
Jay Daire, 39, has an associate’s degree in computer science from Front Range Community College and dreams of one day writing a book.
Kris Skager, 35, also dreams of developing a writing career. He writes poetry in his spare time. He says he took the job to continue the college education he started a decade ago, as each CSU custodian is awarded six free credit hours per semester.
Don Lindon, 59, is also CSU student, working toward a degree since 1968. He’s one class away from graduating.
Rosalina Munguia, 59; Perla Duarte, 31; and David Pearce, 44, make up the rest of “Team Three.” The team, understaffed the last few months, has one empty slot.
In, out, around. Repeat.
On this day //– Apr. 21 — Don is sick and as the crew clocks in at 5:00 a.m. “Team Three” knows it will be a tough day. The team will have to clean their usual eight buildings in seven hours. And not only is Don sick, but it’s “full trash day” — the day they empty all the trash baskets in their buildings, not just bathroom and hallway bins.
After Roy reassigns tasks to accommodate for the absence of Don, “Team Three” shifts out of their office and into the early morning darkness.
And it’s not just “Team Three.” By 5:15 a.m. all five morning custodial teams disperse like synchronized herds. The custodians are keepers of the keys, guardians of education, and by 5:30 or so they have unlocked building doors across campus.
Then each team begins to focus on between eight and 12 buildings. “Team Three” begins in Aylesworth.
It’s one thing to empty a single trash basket. But to empty every single waste bin in an entire building, it’s not so simple. Roy estimates that between the garbage and the recycle bins, Aylesworth has “easily over 1,000 baskets to empty.”
By 5:30 in the morning “Team Three” is moving — and they’re moving fast.
Up on the third floor, Kris weaves through mazes of cubicles in the CSU public relations office. In, out, around, in, out, repeat, cubicle after cubicle. Kris moves at mach speed. It’s a pace dictated by the fact that he’s got two more floors to hit.
Meanwhile in other parts of the building, each team member takes on specifically assigned tasks. Clint is using the industrial strength floor scrubber.
“Trouble,” Jay, Rosa, David, Perla, Will and Steve break into assigned sectors — entryways, offices, classrooms, bathrooms, drinking fountains, all heavy-traffic areas.
When Will finishes his vacuum duties on one end of the building, he joins Kris on the second floor to help with added duties of “full trash day.”
They’re not just wiping surfaces down; they clean thoroughly, diligently. But the most attention goes toward the bathrooms and entryways. Spray, scrub, clean, wipe, empty the wastebaskets. Spray, scrub, clean, wipe, empty the wastebaskets. All at a furious pace.
By 6:45 a.m. every member of the team is helping Steve and “Trouble” finish the last section of the last hall. By 6:59 a.m. Aylesworth is clean.
Then the team splits up. Half the team goes to Chemistry.
Steve and ‘Princess Perla’
“Okay, away we go,” Steve says as he grabs the bathroom cart. Loaded and ready, he heads to the elevator with Perla, who is also a utility specialist in the Chemistry wing.
Steve calls her “Princess Perla.” Their camaraderie is apparent in their fluent teamwork.
For the past six months Steve has been helping Perla with her English, and Perla has taught Steve Spanish.
Steve, whistling away, is at work scrubbing bathroom stalls while Perla, done with the bathroom next door, wipes down a drinking fountain just outside the door.
Gathering her supplies, Perla heads to the elevator while Steve, still whistling, finishes mopping. Steve is a Vietnam War veteran and just like in war, he doesn’t let anything distract him from his duties.
The elevator signals its arrival to the third floor, and Perla rolls the cart in.
Steve, still rounding up his supplies in the bathroom, hurries out. The elevator doors begin to close. Steve swiftly hops in. He barely beats the closing doors.
Descending to the second level, Perla and Steve have a moment to catch their breath.
The doors slide open, and Steve and Perla step off the elevator and return to scrubbing stalls. A few minutes into cleaning, the elevator sounds and Will, Jay and Roy arrive to the scene as backup and help finish, so they can all leave together for an 8 a.m. break.
“What you need Perla?” Jay calls from the hall.
“Nada,” Perla responds, smiling.
Jay and Will pitch in anyway and put themselves to work tying up trash and wiping down countertops.
They coordinate their work and help wherever is needed — finish together, leave together.
“We’re a team here, ‘team two,'” Steve says as he and his four teammates wait for the elevator to reach the main level.
At 8 a.m. the team takes a half-hour break. They finish the building they’re working on then head to the next building. One team goes to Microbiology while the other goes to Gifford. At 11 a.m. the teams take another half-hour break.
Over lunch, Clint, lead custodian, talks about life on the job. The best part, he says, is when people thank them.
“We do have a lot of customers who are real grateful. And it’s nice to get a ‘thanks’ once in a while, cause we work so hard,” Clint says.
But some “customers,” as the custodial staff calls them, aren’t as thoughtful. He says the worse thing they encounter is when there is fecal matter on the walls of the restroom, but that’s rare.
The most common problem is when people ignore the yellow signs in the restroom saying, “No entry.” When a custodian is cleaning a bathroom for the opposite sex and someone comes in, they have to ask that person to leave.
But Clint says a lot of students just barge in, sometimes with headphones on, and they use the bathroom anyway. At that point the custodian is required to leave. And it happens a lot.
“I don’t understand why people do it,” Clint says. “It’s one of those things I wish people would stop doing. It’s off the wall.”
After their short break it’s back to work.
Around noon Rosalina and David clean a bathroom in Gifford. As Rosalina carries a garbage bag out, she steps over the yellow caution sign.
Just then a brunette female walks past Rosalina and past the sign clearly saying, “No entry.”
She walks past David, too. David turns from the mirrors he’s cleaning and says, “Excuse me.” He repeats, “Excuse me.”
The woman doesn’t answer. She walks into a stall and sits down.
David shrugs his shoulders and leaves. Rosalina is laughing at him outside.
‘It was a good day’
The teams finish Gifford together and separate to finish two other buildings. By 12:30 p.m. the split teams reunite in the Physiology building, where the day started about eight hours earlier.
The pace has slowed a little, but not much. And the teamwork is more evident as crewmembers radio each other to see what last minute tasks remain.
When the final stall is cleaned, the team convenes in the conference room, which they call the “lock box.”
Roy holds a “round-robin.” The team sits at the conference table and chats about their day, passing around a uniquely pliant and spiky, green ball.
Roy passes it to his left to Roasalina. He says, “Tell us how your day was?”
She says, “It was a good day.”
Then she breaks into laughter telling the rest of the team about David’s mishap in the bathroom. She imitates David, in her Spanish accent.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” she says jokingly.
David shrugs his shoulders.
This is part of Roy’s Zen-like leadership. He provides enough time at the end of each shift so that his team can “get things off their chest.”
The ball passes through Jay and then to David. Everybody agrees it was a good day until the ball gets to Perla. She says that she wasn’t able to eat lunch after cleaning the Gross Anatomy Lab — where students dissect animals. When she says it, she imitates a dry heave.
Kris chimes in, “Yeah, it was rank. They were dissecting pit bulls today. They were doing entrails.”
The whole team looks a little disturbed, but they laugh anyway.
When the ball gets to Clint, he tells the team they did a great job, especially being down a person on “full trash day.”
When the ball comes full circle back to Roy he reminds the team that with a position to fill they are actually shorthanded two people.
Roy says, “You guys did a good job. You were down two, and it was David and Goliath. And you guys slayed the giant. You guys did good.”
The team, exhausted and spent, clock out at 1:30 p.m. “Team three” will meet again at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow.
Staff writer Tim Maddocks and Senior Reporter Kaeli West can be reached at email@example.com.