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Housekeeping, trades are behind-the-scenes at Marietta College

Community partners aid in campus sanitation

Carol McCracken, left, and Anita McCutcheon sanitize the computers at the Marietta College Legacy Library this month. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

There are ghosts on campus.

They slip into action before the sun rises.

Haunting the halls.

Sliding down stairs.

Misting the shelves of the Legacy Library all before a single student rises at Marietta College.

But this October, their presence is felt even more due to the need imposed by coronavirus.

“Every time I sanitize a desk, or wipe down a chair I think what if it was my kid sitting there?” said Cathy Robison, one of the army of housekeepers haunting the halls of the liberal arts college in three shifts this school year.

“Yes, I want to clean every space to where I’d be comfortable sending my own child here,” added Anita McCutcheon.

The pair, alongside Diana Hart and Carol McCracken (who retired Friday), are the ghostly crew arriving on campus before 5 a.m. to clean academic buildings and the recreation center before students begin their days.

All four are under the immediate direction of Gillian Keeley, a beloved housekeeper with a fanbase of nearly a decade’s worth of students with stories of her British teas, motherly advice and gentle comforting from when she oversaw student dorms’ sanitation.

Cathy Robison, left, and Carol McCracken sanitize desks in a makeshift classroom at the Marietta College Legacy Library this month. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“Carol’s really been all over the campus, she’s been with us for 10 years,” said Fred Smith, director of physical plant for the college. “Carol and Gillian really are the ones students recognize most, they’ve both been with us in most buildings for so long.”

The housekeeping staff has grown to a third shift this year, all having to check-in daily with health symptoms before slipping between buildings with sanitizing guns, wipes and vacuums in hand.

“If it stands still, we sanitize it,” Keeley pointed out, noting handprints on elevator ceiling lights may be the toughest spot to clean given the height difference between basketball athletes and housekeeping staff.

Robison strapped on her “Ghostbusters” backpack and headed upstairs, while outside, the sky was dark and students remained asleep, to sanitize the third floor where library space has been converted into a classroom this year.

“The stairs’ handrails are probably the hardest thing to keep sanitized,” said Robison. “It seems like we’re touching those five or more times a day because they see the most traffic.”

Three shifts overlap daily work; 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Then the team trades on-call shifts for 24-hour emergencies and rotates weekend needs.

“Our staff is working seven days a week, it’s a very dedicated staff and they truly understand the impact they have here,” said Smith. “And behind the scenes we need to understand what our trades, our HVAC staff and carpenters are doing, too.”

Air filtration, high-density locations within the congregate living spaces, rearrangement of classrooms and the building of shields and stations for sanitizing, Smith highlighted as all of the ghostly work completed by his staff.

Smith noted that with increased airflow, the school needed greater monitoring and additional filters — enter Morrison’s Inc. — with classrooms and high-density gathering places and yet, plexiglass in short supply the need increased for ingenuity — enter the carpenters — and with high-touch points across campus from the mailroom to lockers, weights, books and desks, hand sanitizer stations abound now on campus thanks to Marietta Paint and Janitorial Supply.

“They’ve all done a tremendous job in keeping things running 24/7, we’ve had community partners there with us,” he added. “It’s the whole community coming together.”

So whether the weather turns sour and the single confirmed case of coronavirus still active from a contractor on campus in September dissipates to zero in the congregate setting or the three total confirmed cases, since classes started, grows, the campus and its ghosts are ready.

“When you see students, or the staff on campus and they’re saying thank you for what you’re doing, it’s sweet,” added Keeley. “You feel a part of something bigger, doing your bit to keep everyone safe.”

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