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A day on the job: reporter shadows plant operations worker, gets insight

For roof leaks, closet breaks or clogged toilets, few students would think to look to Adams Hall. But this little building behind Doane houses 14 people who become very important to students in their maintenance crises.

Although the workers at plant operations are each associated with a different department, such as plumbing or carpentry, they are all willing to peform other duties.

“When push comes to shove, we’re right there to cover each others’ backs,” said HVAC worker Bill Mayo.

As a reporter, I spent a couple of days shadowing Mayo.

Mayo’s day, along with almost everyone else’s at plant ops, begins at 7:30 a.m.

The first thing Mayo does is check the campus’ heating and cooling systems by way of the computerized Energy Management System.

On the second day I was with him, he discovered a heating problem in the weight room through this system and was able to replace a loose part. After checking the EMS, Mayo’s fills work orders placed by students, processed by secretary Marianne Oakley and placed on clipboards for the workers.

“I like to triage my work orders,” he said. “On the top of my triage list are suites. My first priority in the winter is heat.”

Although he completes each order as promptly as possible, an issue such as a clogged toilet may take a few days to fix, Mayo said.

The number of orders any plant ops worker gets done in a day depends on how long each work order takes.

“One work order might take you one or two days. Others may take you five minutes,” he said. “It depends on the job.”

When Mayo is not filling work orders, he makes the rounds of the campus, checking the heating and cooling systems in each building, paying special attention to the boilers. But he is mostly kept busy filling work orders.

Some days plant ops will process 170 orders, while on others they will process only a few, according to Oakley.

This variety was present in the two days I spent with Mayo. The first day, he only had three work orders. When I went back the next afternoon, plant ops had already processed 25 requests. Mayo himself had already completed four requests, including fixing a puzzling electrical problem in Gallup and replacing two cracked toilet seats in a Gough men’s hall. One issue plant ops faces when fillling work orders is privacy, especially on the girls’ halls.

Mayo said plant ops workers take certain precautions when on a girls’ hall, including announcing their presence and making sure the community bathrooms are empty before entering.

One frustration the men face in these situations, Mayo said, is the tendency of some students to enter the bathroom while a plant ops man is inside, despite the blinking light placed outside the bathroom door as a warning.

“We have to either tell them they can’t be in here, or we have to drop our tools and leave,” he said. Still, Mayo is impressed by the courtesy of the students and enjoys his job, especially the camaraderie he experiences with his fellow workers. “You won’t ever see a somber face in our department,” he said.

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