Hard work is nothing new to Jane Deschamps: in fact, it is something she very much enjoys. Deschamps has been working as a custodian at Brock University for almost 13 years, and she would not trade the experiences she’s had here for anything.
I had the chance to follow Deschamps on one of her shifts and look at all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into keeping the campus clean and functioning. We met up on the first floor of Mackenzie Chown G Block — the headquarters of Custodial Services — a branch operated under the Department of Facilities Management. The office of the supervisors is located here, as well as the room that keys to every room in the university. Deschamps’ first step was to grab her key ring for her assigned area of the school, pick up a pager and check in with her supervisor.
We then walked to the custodian’s Break Room, located on the first floor of the Schmon Tower beside Market Hall. Putting up our coats and bags, she led me to the custodial closet in the Scotiabank Hall and proceeded to show me what a normal shift for a custodian looks like.
“I really love my place here and I hope that it continues,” commented Deschamps.
Deschamps has the afternoon shift from 3:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. There are thirteen other custodians that also work the afternoon shift, each responsible for a different area of the school. Deschamps’ area includes the Thistle hallways and bathrooms as well as the ITS offices, Scotiabank Hall and Career Services, as well as all of the library bathrooms from the fifth to the tenth floor. She also makes sure the two Tim Hortons in Thistle have a bucket, mop and a cart for their garbage.
Firstly, Deschamps did quick bathroom tidy-ups in Scotiabank Hall and Thistle. This includes spraying and cleaning the mirrors, sinks and toilets, as well as refilling soap and toilet paper and emptying the garbage. Later on in her shift, Deschamps will do a thorough clean, but she likes to start off with a quick check-up.
“I spray and wipe,” said Deschamps. “This way you’re cleaning it and it’s sterilized and presentable.”
Deschamps also walked through the four Thistle hallways with her cart, emptying any full garbage bags.
A quick detour was made down into ITS, off of Thistle, to empty all the garbages in the offices down there.
The care that Deschamps puts into her daily routine was evident by her interaction with the ITS workers. Quick and efficient, she also managed to greet everyone, addressing them by name, and exchange a few words.
“Jane is one of the best that we’ve had,” one of the ITS employees told me, praising Deschamps’ hard work.
Deschamps was equally complimentary of all the ITS workers, saying that they always do their best to keep the offices clean, which makes her work a lot easier.
“If you’re a good worker, then they respect you,” said Deschamps.
During the course of the week, Deschamps will also dust the ITS offices and mop the floor whenever needed. On this shift, however, she just emptied the garbages as she was going to clean the Career Services office.
Down in Career Services, Deschamps wiped down all the desks and phones, and vacuumed the floor. She started at the very end of the office, and worked her way up the length of the vacuum cord. She finished a third of the offices, stating that the next day she would do the following part and then the last part the day after.
According to Deschamps, it’s all about being able to space out your work over the course of a week and knowing how much you can do each day. For her, cleaning the bathrooms is her top priority and she makes sure that is done on every shift. Everything else is worked around the remaining time that she has.
“Every spare moment, you make sure you keep yourself busy and are doing something,” said Deschamps. “I never want to get behind or waste my time.”
After Career Services, Deschamps had some time before her first break, so she proceeded to clean the Scotiabank: dusting, wiping down the counters and vacuuming the carpet.
After this, it was already 5:15 p.m. and time for the first 15-minute break. I was really surprised at how fast the first two hours had flown by, and how much time is actually needed.
After the quick break, we stopped by one of the innumerable custodial closets to get a cleaning cart and then we headed towards the library. Most closets contain a standard cart filled with cleaning supplies, a broom and vacuum, and lots of toilet paper rolls. Deschamps made sure that all the product bottles were full and also filled up a bucket with water and toilet bowl cleaner.
The first stop was the tenth floor, and Deschamps did a quick clean-up of the two bathrooms, before heading down to the next floor. The night shift personnel would be doing a thorough clean of these bathrooms, she said.
There are three shifts for custodians: day shift from 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., afternoon shift from 3:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., and night shift from 11:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. While all shifts have similar duties, some things vary depending on what works best time-wise. Day shift custodians clean a lot of offices in the morning before professors and administrative staff start working. The night shift is responsible for cleaning lecture halls and classrooms once all classes are done.
As we worked our way down the library floors, Deschamps told me a little more about her life and how she came to be working at Brock. Having always been a hands-on worker, Deschamps started working directly after high school, finding a job in a GM factory. She is also a certified welder, and has worked at various other places, including Fleet Canada, a contract company for Canada Aerospace. There, Deschamps was responsible for constructing helicopter doors.
With the declining economy, factories especially, began to downsize their workforce, and Deschamps began to look for another job. She was hired as a custodian at the St. Catharines General Hospital, the first time that she started cleaning professionally.
After several years at the hospital, Deschamps was given a part-time job at Brock, in which she served for two and a half years. Once she secured a full-time position, she stopped working at the hospital and has been cleaning at Brock since. This upcoming November will mark the thirteenth year that Deschamps has worked at Brock.
“I felt very comfortable coming to Brock,” said Deschamps. “Getting used to where I was going was the biggest thing: it’s a big place.”
Deschamps has spent nine of those thirteen years working in the Walker Complex; she has also worked in the Decew and Earp residences.
Outside of work, Deschamps owns a small ranch near Fort Erie with her husband. They breed and train horses, and raise cows and some chickens. Her goal is to have a stable for rescued horses, and to provide opportunities for children with autism to work with the horses. In the mornings before she comes to work, she’s generally working in the barn with the horses.
Back at Brock, Deschamps had just finished with the last bathroom on the fifth floor. We didn’t encounter anything too messy, although Deschamps said the bathrooms on the seventh and fifth floor are prone to flooding, which she has to clean up once or twice a week. I’d also learned how to correctly use a cloth. When you fold it properly, it gives you eight different sides that you can use to wipe down various surfaces without cross-contaminating. As well, Deschamps had explained to me the various products that she uses. Her favourite one is Neutralizer, which she can use for all surfaces, and it cleans as well as sterilizes. For really dirty or odorous surfaces (such as the men’s bathroom on the seventh floor of the library) she likes to use Liqui-Bac, which is a more powerful product and will get rid of any strong smells.
Once she was finished with the library bathrooms, Deschamps did a thorough clean of the accessible washroom beside the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre, and then it was time for the half-hour lunch break.
Other custodians from the afternoon shift were gathered in the break room, and the camaraderie amongst them was evident as they talked about a variety of topics.
“It’s the people here that make this place,” said Deschamps. “I love everyone I work with and we get along really well.”
The other custodians echoed Deschamps’ sentiments, saying that they were like a little family.
Deschamps described how during their final 15-minute break at 9:15 p.m. they all get together in the break room.
They also explained a bit more to me about what custodians do beyond just the regular cleaning. As exams are coming up, it’s the responsibility of Custodial Services to set up all the mats, desks and chairs in the gyms.
“A lot of work goes into preparing exams,” commented Mike Molinaro, who is responsible for the all the recycling.
The afternoon shift supervisor, Mike Lovallo, also talked about some of the other duties that the custodians do. Besides preparing for exams, they also do the setup and teardown for Convocation and the variety of conferences that are held throughout the year. The summer is also really busy with waxing all the floors and shampooing the carpets, in order to have the entire campus ready for a new school year.
After the lunch break, we returned to Scotiabank Hall and Deschamps proceeded to thoroughly clean those bathrooms, as well as the ones in Thistle. She prefers to do the thorough clean near the end of her shift, she told me, and start off the shift with just a quick clean. At the very end, she goes around and does another quick check just to make sure the bathrooms are still clean.
A thorough clean includes fully cleaning the toilets and sinks, as well as sweeping and mopping the floors. If necessary, the toilet paper is replaced and the garbages are emptied.
“I love making things clean for the people here and knowing that I’m keeping them safe,” said Deschamps. “My biggest reward is putting a smile on people’s faces when they know that they can go into a bathroom and use it because I’ve cleaned it well.”
After cleaning the bathrooms, we walked through the Thistle hallways once again to empty all of the garbages. The full cart is taken down to the large garbage container on the rear end of Thistle, behind the Market. Besides the garbage container, there is also a cardboard compressor where any cardboard is collected and disposed of.
Once the cart, which was full of garbage bags, had been emptied, it was already 9:15 p.m. and time for the second 15-minute break. After the break, Deschamps swept the Thistle Hallways, making sure that any debris is cleaned up. Finally, she did a final bathroom check to make sure that they were still in good condition.
As Deschamps’ shift ends at 11:30 p.m. she is looking forward to going home and taking a shower. When I asked her if she ever got tired of cleaning bathrooms, she responded that: “I don’t mind doing it [at] all, maybe because I’ve been doing it for so long.” Deschamps also mentioned that she generally cleans the bathroom at her house twice a day, and that it’s always spotless.
Personally, it was an exciting opportunity to have been able to follow Deschamps around for her shift and to learn more about all the hard work that goes into keeping the university clean. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and appreciated getting to know more about some of the behind-the-scenes activities that go on, that we as students are not aware, or appreciative of, nearly enough.