When summer comes to UAA, dorms aren’t just for students anymore.
University Conference Services began renting out dorm rooms to the general public in the early 1990s.
“We’ve got a great rapport with the Captain Cook Hotel (and) the Hilton Hotel,” said Tina Veldkamp, conference services manager. When hotels overbook or have no vacancies, they refer customers to UAA for a room. The Marriott, Hawthorn Suites and Golden Lion also refer their clients to University Housing/Dining/Conference Services. Tourists and visitors trade a traditional hotel room for $45 per-person per-night (plus an 8-percent bed tax) in UAA’s residence halls, without sacrificing the complimentary chocolates on the pillow.
According to Veldkamp, the program brought in $1.2 million in the 2004 summer.
“All the money that we bring in goes right into the university, so it cuts down on the cost to students,” Veldkamp said.
Since only 80-90 students occupy the residence halls in the summer, Conference Services helps to sustain the housing and facilities budget. Wayne Morrison, associate director of Housing and Dining Services, said that it is an auxiliary organization, like the UAA Campus Bookstore, so UHDCS must pay rent to the university, rather than receive funding.
Morrison also said the 30-year, $33 million loan for the new residence halls, built in 1998, has also put some financial burdens on the housing department.
“We have huge payments to make on those dorms,” Morrison said.
Conference Services was operating before the residence halls were built, when only the Main Apartment Complex and Templewood apartments were available, Morrison said. Conference Services also caters to the more than 75 university groups at UAA for their conferences, summer interns for Providence Health System, the Special Olympics and the Anchorage Baseball League.
Conference Services not only helps to sustain UHDCS’ annual revenue, but also provides 20-22 UAA students with summer work.
Student employees are divided into teams and assigned rooms to clean and prepare for incoming clients. With the term “prep crew” attached to their position, groups of three to four students set out on six-hour days at $8.50 per hour to clean sinks and bathrooms, mop and sweep floors, strip linens, make beds, restock coffee stations, and set out advertisements for campus dining facilities. Lastly, they set out the complimentary chocolates, in a UAA-emblazoned wrapper.
The 20 students are overseen by two summer interns, selected from a 250-count applicant pool of graduate students. Veldkamp said the applicants are part of the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International.
Of the four-member prep crew that the Northern Light shadowed on their cleaning rounds, three of the students said they applied for the job for the free summer housing. Summer prep-crew workers who complete 24 hours of labor each week receive free housing, Veldkamp said.
Novella Harrison, a civil engineering and Spanish major who works on the prep crew, started working for Conference Services shortly after the end of the spring 2005 semester.
Harrison said most students start out cleaning in the summer, then move up to hospitality desk jobs, and possibly an eventual office job with the UHDCS directors.
Pre-nursing major Mary McCone compared the job to her previous work at hospitals.
“I used to have to make beds with people in them, so it’s a nice change,” McCone said. Although soccer teams sometimes track mud into the room, and the Special Olympians increased the linen-cleaning load, McCone said the rooms are usually fairly clean.
“Sometimes there’s leftover food left open for a few days,” McCone said. “It’s okay, I used to have to wipe butts at the hospital… I have yet to find a room that’s been partied in.”
Psychology major Gohn Egbert said he’s never been into making beds, and his task of choice is restocking the coffee pot.
Though the work is regular and predictable, McCone said the daily rotation of crews helps to keep things new. Conference Services also has an ongoing competition between the students for “quality points,” the level of cleanliness of a given room each day. According to Harrison, the three students with the most quality points get an ice-cream party at the end of summer.
USUAA senator and business administration major Luke Thomas, who was sick with pneumonia during the entire training period, has the most quality points to date.
To stave off the possible monotony of cleaning identical rooms all day, the crews’ jobs vary from day to day, ranging from de-prepping, prepping, folding linens, or repackaging new shipments of towels. Thomas listed the quantities of different towel sizes in new shipments, prompting McCone to demonstrate the different folding styles of bath towels and face cloths.
“So we’re learning about fractions,” Harrison (also a math minor) said of the towel-folding process, then offered to demonstrate the making of hospital corners. “It’s a very technical technique.”