Ozarks maintenance crews spend summer getting it right for the fall

Release Date: 8/10/2011

It takes a heap o' loving to make a house a home. College campus, same thing. The old song says "Summertime, when the livin' is easy," but for the two dozen or so people who work in the Maintenance and Housekeeping department at the U of O, summertime is when the hammer comes down.

The Ozarks campus, which may seem small to the casual observer, is made up of 32 buildings, including classrooms, residence halls, student center and gym, and 10 off-campus dwellings used for various purposes, a total of 487,117 square feet, all of which has to be maintained.

"Right after graduation - usually around April, before the board of trustees meets - we present to them a list of projects we want to do over the summer," said Maintenance Manager Mike Qualls, who has been at Ozarks 11 years. "We make a list of projects building by building - as in, the library needs a new air conditioner, or whatever it happens to be. Then we try to prioritize that list based on what budget year can it come out of."

Budget years begin on July 1 each year.

"After we determine that," he continued, "we schedule projects based on whether the particular building will be in use, and when. This summer, for example, the Ozarks Outdoors Base Camp in the woods on the north side of campus [used as an outdoor classroom/training area] took up a lot of time. The kids did some of the work before school let out, but we knew there'd be more to do, which there was."

Once they've prioritized their projects list, Qualls said, they forward that to Student Life, which has compiled its own list, supplied by dormitory Resident Assistants at the end of the spring, of things needing repair or replacement.

The dorms do not stand empty during the summer.

"Different groups use campus facilities during the summer," said Safety, Grounds, and Custodial Manager Jeannett Willis, who has spent 25 summers at Ozarks. "There were four different groups here this year, for example. Every time a group passes through, we go in behind them and fix everything up - clean, make up all the beds, stuff like that. Outside, we make sure the flowerbeds look great and do our regular grounds keeping. And if the weather kicks up like it did the other day, we clean up the limbs and leaves and make it all look good."

Qualls and Willis both agreed that expecting the unexpected is part of the job. "Obviously when we make that list we'll start our projects, but then of course we find things that have to be added to the projects as we go," said Qualls. "And then on top of that, there are normal times when we have to maintain all out equipment, from mowers to chainsaws - those things have to be done, and we do them, but everything takes time."

"All this, along with working in everybody's vacation days," Willis added. "And of course the heat doesn't help."

Summer heat has been an issue this summer especially, and Qualls said maintenance has done what it could to work around the problem. "We've been starting our days at 6 a.m. since July, when it began to get so hot," he said. "Once school starts it'll be back to 7 o'clock. We watch each other, and make sure everybody gets plenty of fluids."

"Fill 'em full of Gatorade and pray!" Willis added.

Although construction and expansion of campus facilities is an exciting and necessary part of the university's growth, summers that include new construction projects offer a special challenge to regular maintenance work. This summer, construction is finishing on a 14,000 sq. ft. expansion to the Seay Student Center, the new, 6,600 sq. ft. Trustee Residence Hall, and extensive renovation to in the Smith/Broyles General Chemistry and Organic Labs.

"We have a summer project list every year, but when construction is going on, it complicates things," Qualls said. "The biggest problem with construction is that if they get off their schedule, we have to do what we can to help. If furniture or whatever has to be moved, that's on us. If they come across something that isn't on the contract, we do it. If they dig up a pipe by accident, we go in and wrap it. When they finish projects they do clean up, but we want to make sure things are ready for school to start. All that takes a lot of time. And it has to be done right now."

Qualls and Willis agreed the summer routines have been the same for many years. "Maybe back 15 or 20 years ago, there was some downtime around November," said Willis. "But now it's straight on through the year."

On August 8, all the furniture and equipment for the fitness center began coming in, requiring hours and manpower to assemble and set up. "And we have tables and supplies stored out here we'll have to move again, because it came earlier but construction is just now finishing," said Willis. "One of our main jobs is installing and distributing equipment that comes in for the professors throughout the year, desks or whatever they need. Everything takes time."

Qualls said the objective is to always to have everything ready to go by orientation, which begins August 18. "The week before," he said, "we'll be putting in some long hours. Lot of nights and weekends between now and then."

Ozarks' Maintenance personnel put a tarp over a leak in the chapel roof.

Following a thunderstorm, Mike Qualls and other maintenance workers tarp a leaky roof on the chapel until the roofers arrive.