Unsung heroes keep UA up and running
The University of Arizona counts on a huge staff that keeps the campus running smoothly.
These employees work diligently every day, but their names go unnoticed in the eye of the general public. They clean restrooms, keep elevators working, maintain plumbing and electrics, make locks and keys for the entire campus and more.
With nearly 30 departments, UA Facilities Management provide maintenance to campus that support students, faculty and staff to achieve their academic, professional and life goals.
Keeping her head held high
Yesenia Ahumada, a custodian from Guasave, Mexico, has been working at the UA for nine years. At the McKale Memorial Center, Ahumada is charged with cleaning the athletic director’s office, track and field offices, volleyball offices, swimming offices, ticket offices and administration offices. Besides that, she also cleans the women’s locker rooms for soccer, tennis, swimming and diving, cheerleaders, golf, softball and track and field.
Ahumada’s day begins at 5 a.m. and usually ends at 1:30 p.m. — it’s an earlier eight-hour work day, but it’s a schedule she’s perfectly content with.
“I love it,” Ahumada said. “I have half a day for me, myself and I.”
While she is surrounded by students working toward higher education and an educational staff with advanced degrees, Ahumada doesn’t have one herself.
Despite all the work she does and the love she holds for her job, she sometimes feels like those in higher positions make her feel degraded, Ahumada said.
“It is a little disappointing,” Ahumada said.
Ahumada said that, even without a degree, she feels more educated than others who have one because she respects and values people.
According to Ahumada, parents won’t let their children study at a university that is unclean and unpresentable. She explained that the university needs to be clean because when prospective students tour the university, they should leave with a good impression.
“Imagínate [imagine that],” Ahumada said, “si no hubiera nadie que limpiara [if there was no one to clean].”
Worrying for students
Eric Silva Jr. has worked all over campus. He started at the UA as a landscaper about three years ago then transferred to the facilities management warehouse and later began at the electrical services department. These days, Silva mainly works on Speedway Boulevard, which spans from Banner —Health University Medical Center to the McKale Center.
Although students may not be aware of how “dangerous” his job can be, his biggest worry is the students’ safety.
According to him, students have a tendency to be unaware of their surroundings and it is a major issue that the facility staff is aware of. Specifically, Silva worries students will hurt themselves when crossing the streets while texting because they can’t see a potential car coming.
“Cell phones are a big distraction,” Silva said. “Be aware of your surroundings.”
Silva is a Wildcat fan and he said that was why he worries.
“I like to come here on campus and make a good environment for [students],” Silva said.
Silva isn’t the only employee in UA Facilities Management to worry about student safety. Ahumada said she fears a breach of security. Sometimes, faculty and staff want access to a room or building she is working in but get upset when she refuses them access.
“We cannot open the door for nobody,” Ahumada said. “Why? Because of security.”
It’s no secret that parking is a hassle on and around the UA campus, but for facilities management employees, timed parking becomes a problem.
Fernando Lopez from Querétaro, Mexico, is an employee in the electrical services department of Facilities Management and has been working at the UA for 23 years. Lopez thinks that facilities management employees should have priority parking throughout campus.
Lopez mentioned that even when he drives a state vehicle and parks in the service spot, he still risks getting tickets for doing his job because most service parking spots have a limited use of two hours. Sometimes, he and his co-workers need more than two hours to do their jobs.
“There is not enough parking,” Lopez said. “[Parking monitors] give you a ticket for doing your job. That’s not fair.”
According to Stanley Donsky, also part of the electrical services department, sometimes people park in the service parking spots, forcing him and his coworkers to walk many blocks to work while carrying heavy tools. Donsky prefers to ride his bike to work because paying for parking is not an option for him.
Love for the job
According to Ahumada, the relationship she has with her coworkers is a special one. They help each other in any situation, even covering someone else’s turn.
“This is like a family,” Ahumada said. “This is the best place to be because this is … teamwork.”
This close relationship is necessary for her job, according to Ahumada.
Similarly, Silva claims that his relationship with his coworkers is like a brotherhood where they support each other.
“Everybody helps everybody,” Silva said.
Between the family dynamic and the people they get to meet, Silva and Lopez find love for their jobs in the midst of maintenance chaos.
Lopez gets excited when he goes to restricted areas because he gets the opportunity to see fossils and the most recent research. Silva also loves his job because of the spontaneity and the chances of learning something new. He loves his job and he loves the students.
“Every day is something new,” Silva said. “The UA is a great place. It’s a great place to work, it’s a great place to go to school.”
Follow Diana Ramos on Twitter