Cleaning House

When campus is quiet, residence hall housekeeping staffs gear up for summer cleaning

From left to right: Bernard Smith, Loretta Liles, George Johnson and Gary Vaughan all play roles in keeping Duke's residence halls in good condition.
From left to right: Bernard Smith, Loretta Liles, George Johnson and Gary Vaughan all play roles in keeping Duke's residence halls in good condition.

Senior supervisor Gary Vaughan played it cool when talking about what his housekeeping staff in Keohane Quad on West Campus did in May.

With roughly a week between Duke students moving out and summer students moving in, Vaughan’s staff of nine switched into cleaning overdrive, rehabbing residence hall rooms and communal spaces after a school year of wear and tear.

“My team did a great job,” Vaughan said.

For two of the four buildings that comprise Keohane Quad – which houses around 500 students - Vaughan estimated his team had two or three days to get the work done.

“There’s a lot of adrenaline when you know you’ve got to get it done,” said housekeeper Loretta Liles, who was part of the crew that tackled that challenge. “You have to go head-first, dead-in. It’s a relief once it’s done.”

When the rhythm of campus life slows over summer, the housekeeping staff in Student Affairs’ Housing, Dining and Residence Life gears up, tackling the tall task of refreshing residence halls that are home to roughly 5,700 students on East, West and Central campuses.

With some residence halls housing children for Duke’s summer camps, the cleaning process can get repeated multiple times during summer.

“One of the things I hear a lot is ‘What did you do last summer?’” said Bernard Smith, associate director of residence hall operations. “We kind of look at each other and laugh. We were here. A lot of people don’t know that we’re in these residence halls and we do a large percentage of the heavy work during the summer months. We enjoy this.”

In most residence halls, the first few weeks of summer are devoted to “bulk cleaning,” which is essentially emptying rooms and common areas, ridding them of trash and moving items departing students donate. Then, housekeepers go room-by-room, cleaning carpets and wiping walls and furniture.

Finally, the bigger jobs – called “project cleaning” – get done. That includes stripping and waxing hallway floors, washing walls and making sure every bit of tile and stainless steel shines.

Utility Worker George Johnson said the variety of tasks is what makes summer different. It’s a break from the familiar routine of the academic year, which involves cleaning bathrooms and communal spaces.

“I don’t always know what I’m going to do, but I come ready to work,” said Johnson, who has worked at Duke for two years.

In August, when the summer sessions are finished and new and returning students move in for the fall, students will find ready rooms, proof of the feverish work housekeepers put in during Duke’s summer calm.

“It doesn’t just happen, it’s the forces that are behind it, it’s the people in these buildings,” Smith said. “We’re proud to be a part of that.”