Going the extra mile – the custodial teams helping UBC transition back to campus

Custodial teams at work

This is part four in a series recognizing faculty and staff who are supporting UBC’s transition back to campus. In this update, we showcase the efforts of our colleagues behind UBC’s custodial teams.

Samson Cheung has seen a lot during his 40 years at UBC, but even with the many changes that have happened at the university – nothing quite prepared him for the last year.

As a Head Service Worker within UBC Facilities’ Building Operations, Samson and his Custodial Services team are responsible for maintaining the cleanliness of 15 buildings on the Vancouver campus, including the War Memorial Gym. This includes unlocking the buildings, ensuring they are ready for use and making sure they are kept clean throughout the day.

Samson’s team is just one part of a larger group of staff who take care of more than 200 UBC buildings on the Vancouver campus, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Many people don’t realize we are a 24 hour a day operation,” says Conor Cregg-Guinan, Day Shift Assistant Supervisor. “We look after a variety of spaces such as clinical settings, labs and administrative offices. Some spaces cannot be cleaned during the day so we do a lot of detailed cleaning at night.”

Navigating the impact of COVID-19

When COVID-19 impacted the university last year, it meant that many of UBC’s faculty and staff had to transition to remote work. For Samson and his team, their role required them to stay on campus.

He explains: “When COVID-19 first emerged most of the buildings were closed to the public but we needed to clean and sanitize them all. We were at a point where everyone was still learning about the virus so we had to learn how to do our work in a responsible and physically distanced manner. It was important to maintain the proper protocols so our staff would feel safe.”

Samson and his team found they had to change the way they reported in for work, as well as adjusting to different assignments, in response to what was required at the time. One new assignment was supporting the Vancouver Coastal Health COVID-19 vaccination clinic within the Pharmaceutical Sciences Building. The clinic required its own dedicated team with additional protocols requested by Vancouver Coastal Health.

Samson explains: “We had full-time dedicated support at the clinic. It was a collaboration with Vancouver Coastal Health and Safety & Risk Services, so we also had to work with them around what they required us to do, such as more frequent sanitization of certain areas.”

"We had full-time dedicated support at the clinic. It was a collaboration with Vancouver Coastal Health and Safety & Risk Services, so we also had to work with them around what they required us to do, such as more frequent sanitization of certain areas."

Samson Cheung, Head Service Worker, UBC Facilities’ Building Operations
Daljit Rana (right), seen here working in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Building at UBC Vancouver. Image credits: Paul Joseph.

With so many students, faculty and staff being remote, the pandemic initially provided an opportunity for Custodial Services to tackle some of the more complex cleaning areas. Conor explains: “At the start of the pandemic campus was completely deserted. As time has gone on, we have seen more activity and we feel we are prepared for that final transition to a full campus.”

This sentiment is shared by Jamie Armer who is the manager of Custodial and Waste Services at UBC Okanagan. Although the majority of custodial services are managed through a contract company at UBC Okanagan, Jamie oversees a core team who were also impacted by the pandemic.

“The majority of our buildings on the Okanagan campus are multi-use,” explains Jamie. “So, if one person submitted a COVID-19 Safety Plan, it meant we had to treat the entire building as if it were open.”

Just as Samson and his team remained on the Vancouver campus, so did Jamie and his team at UBC Okanagan. “We’ve been on the ground every day since the pandemic began,” he adds. “We used it as an opportunity to be proactive, for example last summer we cleaned every single window on campus.”

Just as the Vancouver staff had to adjust to different ways of working, Jamie and his Okanagan team had to implement new protocols. He continues: “My team had to learn how to do their jobs while wearing non-medical masks, as well as maintaining physical distance. But they are a great team and managed to make it work.”

Getting ready for increased activity

As the university transitions to increased activity on its campuses, the many staff who maintain UBC buildings are helping ensure they are ready for our students, faculty and staff. At both UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan items classed as ‘high touch points’ are being regularly sanitized, in spaces such as washrooms, common areas, study areas and classrooms.

According to Jamie, cleanliness of these areas plays a role in reassuring our community that we are maintaining standards. “I believe it’s always important to maintain standards,” he says. “When you go into a space and it is clean, garbage bins are regularly emptied for example, it says a lot about an organization.”

Looking back at the last year and a half, there is a lot of pride in the hundreds of staff who have maintained important services while also navigating COVID-19 in their own lives. These same staff are now working behind the scenes to help UBC as it transitions once more.

"I believe it’s always important to maintain standards. When you go into a space and it is clean, garbage bins are regularly emptied for example, it says a lot about an organization."

Jamie Armer, manager of Custodial and Waste Services, UBC Okanagan

“I am so proud of my team, they often spot what needs to be done before someone even asks for it,” says Jamie. “When you work with people who have such pride in their work, it can’t help but make you smile.”

Conor shares the same pride in his own team. “We work on a pretty amazing campus with amazing facilities,” he adds. “Many of the staff have been working for UBC for many years. They are passionate and take great pride in what they do.”

And as for Samson, what keeps him working at UBC after 40 years? “Everyone in my department cares,” he explains. “My team members don’t mind going the extra mile and I have great trust in them. That’s the reason I keep working here.”


Written by Kate Hunter, UBC Internal Communications
August 2021

More information        

Learn more about the Custodial Services teams at UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan.

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