Feature: Rising Before the Sun: KWU’s Plant Operations Staff Helps Drive Campus Success

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Before the sun rises and students arrive on the KWU campus, one group has already been hard at work, preparing spaces for the day to come. 

The KWU Plant Operations crew, comprised of 20 custodial and maintenance professionals are turning up their sleeves every day to ensure KWU is a clean and safe place for students and faculty.

Each morning, custodians arrive on campus between 4:30 and 5 a.m., cleaning and disinfecting classrooms prior to 8 a.m. classes. With the staff hard at work before most people are out of bed, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced them to up the ante on their already rigorous routine.

Leading the charge is Plant Operations Director John Swagerty, who oversees the construction and maintenance on campus. Swagerty came to KWU shortly after spending 20 years in the U.S. Navy as a Seabee. A welder by trade, he oversaw construction projects and worked with contractors all throughout his military career. 

“The military helped me to take every aspect of leadership in a supervisory role and mold myself into what I thought would be a good leader,” he stated. “Being in the military, you see so many different styles and ways to get the job done, and at the end of the day, enjoy what you are doing.”

He added, “It taught me to work with people and not have people work for me.”

One of the people Swagerty works with is his top assistant, Assistant Director of Plant Operations Steven Hovey. Hovey supervises the custodial staff and was crucial in developing the cleaning and disinfecting regimen on campus, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Taking preventive measures, the custodians use electrostatic sprayers in every classroom twice a day, while providing cleaning solution for professors to disinfect the room when needed. Hovey points out that disinfecting classrooms is only half the battle. 

“I’d say one of our biggest challenges is keeping the [residence halls] up to a clean and sanitary standard to where we don’t have the opportunity for a [COVID-19] case or outbreak,” he said

In addition to the classrooms and residence halls, Plant Operations keeps air within the facilities clean thanks an electrostatic system in the HVAC ducting. In the event the virus infiltrates the air, the system emits an electromagnetic charge, enlarging the virus so that it cannot pass through the filters, ultimately stopping COVID-19 in its tracks. 

Elsewhere on campus, the Plant Operations team helped lead the way for KWU’s newest facility, the Nursing Education Center, and performed a complete remodel of Peters Science Hall Room 201. After replacing the roof and carpeting, workers installed new chairs, TVs and paneling on the walls, making it one of the largest useable classrooms on campus. 

“It really spruced the area up and made it a great place to learn,” Swagerty said. 

Other recent in-house projects completed by Plant Operations include renovations to a chemistry lab within Peters Science Hall and the installation of 20 new football lockers. Swagerty says his crew was able to complete the latter project at a third of the quoted cost. 

“We do a lot of in-house projects that aren’t really huge and awe-inspiring, but they are important to a smaller portion of the university,” he noted.

Accompanying the completion of various in-house projects are several upgrades which help reduce the carbon footprint on campus. All campus lights were converted to LEDs, HVAC units were upgraded and water-saving plumbing fixtures were installed. 

Swagerty says he enjoys seeing the finished projects. 

“When I was in the military, I did construction, and it was a great feeling to be able to sit back and say, ‘There is a kid that’s getting an education because we built a school,’” he said. “That is the payback when you are in my world – seeing what comes about at the end of it and the uses that it is going to have.” 

Swagerty also enjoys walking around campus and hearing from students and faculty about how a facility “shines” as a result of the hard work his team put in to make it possible. With future renovations and maintenance projects on the horizon, he’s confident his crew will continue to turn up their sleeves. 

“I don’t see anything other than success for the men and women over here at Plant Operations,” he stated. “Everybody works really hard. They take pride in their facilities and they take pride in the job that they do.”