From unsung to essential


Christina Mason disinfecting rooms before cleaning them when students move out after quarantining.

As the now-masked faces of Castleton’s undergraduates return to campus for the first time since last March, the emptiness of the summer months has begun to fade away. But, of course, the summer of COVID didn’t leave the campus entirely abandoned.

While everyone else was sent home, the custodial and grounds staff of Castleton University never left. Their summer consisted of preparing campus for the return of its lifeblood — the students. Often left uncredited, these “behind the scenes” workers played a massive role in the schools reopening.

Castleton University Interim President Jonathan Spiro eagerly responded when reached for comment regarding our essential employees.

“We could not possibly serve our students without our incredible custodial and grounds staff,” said Spiro. “The pandemic has forced them to adjust to a host of new policies, protocols, and equipment. But they have risen to the challenge, and we are grateful for their can-do spirit, their flexibility, and their professionalism.”

Christine Kwolek, Castleton’s custodial supervisor, said new precautionary duties and technologies are key to addressing the need for increased sanitation. Electrostatic sprayers have recently been added to the no-touch sanitation artillery along with self-cleaning technology for entry points around campus.

“Maybe people will feel easier about opening a door. I know that I’m always using an elbow,” Kwolek said with a laugh.

She and her custodial team have absorbed a majority of the new sanitary expectations and are front line employees in preventing the pandemic on campus.

“It’s increased our workload tremendously. For example, in the dorms, we have to clean and sanitize every bathroom every day,” Kwolek said. “We have to go around and do touch points in different areas several times a day.”

Though new devices and procedures have helped facilities staff adapt to the “new normal” on campus, Castleton’s essential employees certainly hold their fair share of pandemic stress.

Castleton University’s Grounds Supervisor, Jake Rick, mentioned that the whole affair has brought along with it so many unknowns and concerns.

“It’s been kinda weird. Seeing everybody leave in the spring and then going through the whole summer… Most of our staff, we’re in pretty much every day—at the height of the pandemic,” Rick said.

In dealing so directly with sanitation and students, Kwolek regards the situation with a higher sense of urgency.

“Most of us are in the high-risk category,” Kwolek explained. If it’s not us, we worry about bringing it home to someone who is. It’s stressful.”

Despite these concerns, custodial and grounds staff have risen to the challenge—and excelled. While the grounds staff spent their summer trimming trees and beautifying campus, custodial staff was shampooing carpets, waxing the floors of the athletic complex and cleaning entire buildings. Kwolek even credited the facility plumbers as having time to fix pertinent water issues.

Both Kwolek and Rick also mentioned how the facilities staff have become incredibly tight knit—emboldened by each other and the work they’ve put in.

And Spiro said their work isn’t going unnoticed.

“They are here at all hours of the day, every week of the year. Even when nobody else is on campus, they are on the job, making sure that our buildings are clean and our grounds are beautiful,” he said.


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