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ISU custodians hailed as 'unsung heroes of campus'

A custodian at Iowa State University said it can take him up to three hours to clean an auditorium with the new cleaning checklist he must now follow.

AMES, Iowa — Custodians have always held a crucial role of making sure the places people work, shop and go to school are kept clean. 

That role became even more crucial when the pandemic hit, ramping up their sanitation efforts. 

On Iowa State University's campus, there are more than 120 custodians who clean 80 buildings.

One of them is Jim Fields. 

He is in charge of cleaning one building by himself and half of another building, with another custodian. 

"I come in at four in the morning and I go home at 12:30 in the afternoon," Fields said. 

During his shift, he must follow a five-step cleaning process to use in every room he cleans, which the administration developed right after the pandemic started. 

It includes dusting, taking out the trash, sweeping, wiping and disinfecting surfaces or high touch point areas and mopping.

If it's an auditorium, Fields said it can take him nearly three hours to clean.

"If I'm not satisfied with what I'm doing, I'm going to go back and do it again," Fields said. 

Disinfecting surfaces is something new, which custodians at ISU did not do before COVID-19. Now, they use electrostatic sprayers to disinfect. 

"It's something we had to teach them," Michelle Lenkaitis, senior manager of custodial services, said. 

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Adding disinfectants to the cleaning process was just another step to ensure the safety of all people on campus. 

"Pre-covid we cleaned classrooms once a week," Lenkaitis said. "Full cleans and then a spot cleans … now we're cleaning everyday. So it takes a significant amount of staff to do that."

Since the custodians do clean places like classrooms, hallways, auditoriums and bathrooms daily, they are no longer able to clean the more private spaces on campus, such as someone's office.

Fields has been a custodian at ISU for a little over a year. He said he takes his job very seriously. 

"I would be saddened if someone came to Iowa State and got sick in my building," Fields said. "I don't know how I would take that, and they could track it back to LeBaron [Hall]. That's my building." 

And even though keeping everyone else safe against the virus is Field's top priority, the thought of him catching it is always a concern.

"So every day it's on my mind … it never goes out of your head at least not for me," Fields said. 

But even though that concern is there, he always shows up and does his job. 

"Every day I come to work, I do my job and I feel good about that."

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