Ground service works through COVID-19 pandemic

Gabriela CuapioContributor

Southern’s ground service crew begin each day by collecting trash, broken glass and even dead animals on campus.

“Our goal is to make sure that campus looks presentable and safe for the kids too,” said Ground Service Supervisor, Eddie Pagan.

Because of Covid-19, the United States. experienced a rise in unemployment. The Connecticut Department of Labor released a news statement on June. 19 stating that there were more than 635,000 unemployment claims submitted.

Pagan and the ground service crew were among some of Southern’s staff that continued working regular hours through the pandemic.

Associate Director for Custodian Grounds Jeff Payne said that the universities facilities department employs over 100 custodians, yet there are only six custodian ground employees.

“The guys are a very independent group,” said Payne. “They’re a tough group, they take care of business.”

Pagan said the crew begins their tasks at 7 a.m. every day and during winter season they get to campus as early as 3 a.m. for the snow removal process. Planting, leaf blowing, and cutting grass; are among the ground tasks for the grounds crew.

“If we have a work order that something needs to be fixed we’ll prioritize it and take care of that first,” Pagan said.

Recent storms in town have kept the crew busy, they’ve had to clean up fallen branches and cut down trees, according to Pagan.

For Pagan and the crew, completing tasks while working around students can be challenging.

“While we are cutting grass or plowing snow, students sometimes walk in the path with their headphones on sometimes they can’t hear us,” he said. “They’re our priority. They’re here to learn, not worry about getting hurt or someone running them over.”

Pagan has worked at Southern for 30 years and said he has adapted to changes on campus.

“We had more acreage, more workers but as you see the acreage got smaller because of new buildings, more sidewalks, so it’s harder to maintain now,” he said.

Modern equipment has helped facilitate the crew’s job, according to Pagan.

“We’ve always had the right equipment, but they have definitely become more advance now,” he said. “We have a machine called ‘Toro. It cuts grass but at the same time picks it up, so we also use it to pick up leaves in the Fall.”

Pagan said it is important for everyone to get along. He said that spending daily hours with the guys created a strong bond between them making teamwork more effective.

Crew member Robert Coppola said he has been working in landscaping his whole life and enjoys working with the crew at Southern.

“That’s probably the nicest thing you know, when you feel happy coming to work,” Coppola said. “They’re all good people.”

Payne said that custodian and ground service crew are an important group to Southern.

“This is the crew that is essentially on campus on day-to-day basis,” he said “They’re crucial for information and feedback, basically the eyes and ears out on the field.”

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