GW after hours: nightshift employers’ work begins when sun goes down

At 3 a.m., when most students are sound asleep, Jose Flores still has three hours of work until his shift ends.

For 10 years, the El Salvador native has been working as the graveyard-shift lot attendant at GW’s H Street parking garage. To pass the time between 5 p.m. and 6 a.m., Flores listens to a radio and reads the newspaper.

“I like weekends,” said Flores, who hopes to retire in two years. “Usually the weeknights are pretty slow, but there are some people who are out.”

In fact, GW is a flurry of activity on any given night.

From the Mount Vernon shuttle drivers driving an empty bus to and from the two campuses at 4 a.m. to the 90 housekeeping employees that work across the GW campuses between 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m., University employees are hard at work at night while many students are dreaming away in their sleep.

“People ask me how can I come in at night and do the same thing over and over,” said Zak Johnson Jr., the Marvin Center’s night manager. “Well, if it were the same thing, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Every night is different.”

March 2006 will usher in Johnson’s 25th year as the Marvin Center’s night manager, a position that did not exist prior to his arrival. The schedule of events is always changing, requiring extensive overnight disassembly and set-ups, Johnson said.

“No matter what happened earlier today, to me, it’s yesterday,” Johnson said. “That night the event is over and it doesn’t count anymore.”

On any given night Johnson and his team of housekeeping and management staff can be found simultaneously preparing for a midnight breakfast, a medical conference and several student organization meetings. All of these tasks are in addition to the day-to-day operations required of the Marvin Center, which accommodates 25,000 to 35,000 entrances a day, Johnson said.

“We do a whole lot of work,” Marvin Center housekeeper Easton Nembhard said.

Nancy Haaga, director of institutional and auxiliary services for the University, said the 90 Facilities Management night-shift employees conduct a range of jobs including sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, waxing floors, shampooing carpets, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, removing trash, and recycling, general cleaning and window washing – just to name a few.

Haaga said most workers do not begin that work until 10 p.m.

“General housekeeping work is performed throughout the night mainly because classrooms and offices are fully utilized during the daytime hours,” Haaga wrote in an e-mail.

Facilities Management’s trash collectors use the University’s two trash trucks to accumulate the 3,000 tons of trash produced by GW on a yearly basis.

“Trash generated from the various campus buildings is bagged and placed curbside during the night for early morning pickup by Facilities Management,” Haaga said.

She added that a D.C. ordinance regarding trash trucks requires that no garbage be collected before 7 a.m. in residential zones.

Housekeeping workers said they are not lonely though at their late-night jobs because there are always at least some students around to keep them company.

“The students keep moving all night long. I like that,” said Cornelius Menson, a housekeeper for Gelman Library.

For students who live on the Mount Vernon Campus, shuttle bus driver Herman Gerran is a lifeline between the nightlife of Foggy Bottom and the comparatively quiet Mount Vernon. Gerran said he has been driving the night shift since 2003 and is so experienced he is now familiar with the sleeping habits of many of his passengers.

“This is the best shift to drive,” said Gerran as he maneuvered his shuttle through desolate streets at 4 a.m. “I become more personal with the students.”

-Brandon Butler contributed to this report.

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