Hanging Out RIT’s Dirty Laundry
by Nathan J. Lichtenstein | published Nov. 3rd, 2013
“I had somebody open up the detergent tray … put whatever they were going to put in there to wash their clothes and they threw money in there because they thought that’s where the money went as well. I don’t know what they were thinking but there was like two or three dollars’ worth of change there in the soap dispenser,” says Greg Vieira, facility mechanic for RIT Housing Operations.
Behind the scenes, Vieira has been working at RIT for 12 years and, for the last five years, has been tasked with single handedly maintaining every laundry facility on campus. Vieira says the average student often imagines him as the “bad guy” since there are always a lot of broken machines. In truth, Vieira is the hero of the laundry — a humble man who takes great pride in his work.
Lets Talk Numbers
Before diving into the dirty details of the laundry system at RIT it is important to understand the scale of the operation. This year, there are about 18,000 students enrolled at the Institute, all of whom (hopefully) do laundry. Approximately 7,000 of those students live in RIT owned housing, which includes resident halls, Hallapartments, Greek housing and more.
When asked roughly how many washers and dryers are employed across all of student housing, Vieira was quick to respond: “I know exactly: 360 on campus.”
You read that correctly. 360. Now keep in mind that means there are 360 washing machines and 360 dryers making a grand total of 720 individual units. While that is a large number of machines for one man to watch over, that is not a whole lot of laundry facilities for several thousand students to share. In fact, that means there are 20 students to a single washer and dryer. My family of six shares a single washer-dryer pair and still laundry day is a challenge.
A Day in the Life
For students, the transition from broken to functional machines is a fairly seamless, yet opaque process; you begrudgingly place a pink sticky-note on the troubled machine and leave. Within a day or two the machine is repaired and working again.
Yet actually repairing the laundry machines is not an easy job. To repair a single washing machine takes Vieira about two hours. Fixing just two washers eats up half of his work day.
“I try to get into the laundry areas as much as I can but again, I’m divided with my time because I’d like to commit all of my time to one room and get it all fixed, but it’s just not physically possible,” says Vieira.
Just listening to the amount of work that Vieira does for the RIT community can get you thinking, why is there only one laundry mechanic on campus? According to Jeremy Babcock, assistant director of Housing Operations, having another laundry mechanic is something that is being looked into.
Occasionally, when the amount of broken machines becomes too much for Vieira, an outside mechanic is commissioned to help out, but due to budgetary constraints, he is never hired for more than a day. Afterwards, the repairs are left to Vieira once again.
Room to Improve
Vieira and Babcock are currently working on a plan to begin replacing all of the residential side laundry facilities over the next few years — even though the current washers and dryers are only five years old. Because of the constant use the machines get, they are already reaching the end of their lifespan.
The decision to stage the replacements over a span of years is partly due to the hefty price tag of about $500,000 that would accompany replacing all the machines at once. This also ensures that RIT Housing is not put in its current situation again five years down the road, with the laundry facilities desperately needing to be replaced all at the same time.
My time spent talking with Vieira and Babcock inspired me to remind the RIT student population of a few things in order to keep the machines working and everybody satisfied: The washers are only designed to hold 18 pounds of clothing at a time so please do not overload them. Report broken machines online; do not just stick a pink slip on the troubled machine.
Remember your washer or dryer is one of 360 and there is only one man to fix all the machines so please be patient and respectful. And if you ever see a kind man sporting an RIT Housing Operations polo and a goatee in the laundry room, take the time out of your day to say thank you. Vieira works hard to keep your clothes clean and he is damn proud of it.