By Sam Heyliger
Managing & Visuals Editor
It was a typical Saturday morning for Scott Cheney. Wake up at around 5 a.m., drive the dark fifteen minute commute from Burlington, and begin an early morning inspection of campus.
“This is nothing. They didn’t even party last night. Sometimes you have to come in with shovels,” Scott Cheney said while driving through the Townhouse 300s at 6:34 am. The ground was littered with cans, bottles, food, and other miscellaneous garbage from the night before. Cheney said it would take about an hour to pick up everything in the Townhouse 300s before the students started to wake up.
Scott Cheney is a member of the grounds maintenance staff at St. Michael’s College. He and his fellow staff members are in charge of maintaining the fields and outdoor spaces around campus, keeping them free of any excess sticks, leaves, snow, and garbage.
“We’re pretty detail oriented. We always want everything to look the best it can. You’ll start eyeing everything as you’re going through because we’re thinking of it like the students are paying the money to come here, so when I come here, I want it to look right,” Cheney said.
The grounds crew on campus has a long history with weekend party cleanup, having frequently picked up garbage, furniture, and other miscellaneous objects left on the campus grounds overnight. Cheney and his coworkers were tasked this weekend with keeping the campus clean for the oncoming visitors for Family and Alumni Weekend.
“As you come through you’re going to start to have the memories you had coming here and this is how we represent St. Michael’s. We want it to look good,” Cheney said. “Any eyesoar you pick out immediately. I do. And you will too when your child is going to school. You don’t want to see that.”
During his campus inspection, Cheney drove his Gator up to the front of the Townhouse 400s to inspect some new chalk markings from the night before. “That’s gotta be removed. We can’t have that stuff right there,” Cheney said.
Plastered on the ground were inappropriate illustrations and profane language. “At least it’s chalk and not spray paint,” Cheney said before washing off the chalk with gallon buckets of water and an old broom being hauled in the bed of his Gator.
This fall marks the 17th year that Cheney has worked as a member of grounds and facilities at St. Michael’s. Cleaning up garbage from parties has been par for the course over the years. “You don’t really think about [the messes], you just do it. It’s all love for the job really. It’s what it basically comes down to,” Cheney said.
Working long weekend hours is nothing new according to Cheney. Anticipating the job at hand helps him know what he’s getting into before arriving at campus, “You have to be here between 5:30 and 6:00 depending on how bad the mess is. It’s like imagining the Boston Red Sox winning the world series in Game 7, do you know what that’s going to look like the next day?” Cheney said.
Scott and his four coworkers are what is left of the grounds crew at St. Michael’s amidst severe understaffing following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I first started in the early 2000s, there were probably 17 to 18 people on our crew, now there’s like 4. It has dropped dramatically. It puts a lot of pressure on all of us when we don’t have the numbers. There’s a lot more responsibility on everybody,” Cheney said.
Facilities Director Joel Ribout took on the task of helping lighten this pressure through new ways of looking at what the grounds crew should be responsible for around campus. “We started shifting the responsibility more to the students within the past three years. COVID put a big hiccup on that because there weren’t allowed to be parties technically. There was virtually no cleanup in 2020, so I think what we’re doing now with the help of Jeff Vincent and the RDs is a great step to get where we have to get,” Ribout said.
Through several meetings, residence life and grounds have decided to start decreasing the grounds crew’s presence on early morning cleanups around campus after large gatherings. Specifically around townhouses, said Nicole Noce, resident director of townhouses and apartments.
“One thing that we, residence life staff, Jeff Vincent, facilities, and grounds crew agreed on is that other than big weekends like alumni weekend, grounds are not responsible for cleaning up in the townhouses because we really want the seniors to be owning their area,” Noce said.
Scott Cheney was positive about this change in philosophy when asked while driving past the empty, dew laden quad.
“Joel is the third boss we’ve had. My other two bosses would think this is what has been done for a hundred years, this is the way it’s going to be. Joel was the first one that came in and as the first one who said why are we the ones picking up after them,” Cheney said. “This is something we’re just recently trying is to see if we leave the trash the way it sits in mornings like this. If the students come out and start picking up after themselves, we’re hoping they’ll learn that it needs to not be a mess.”
Once the inspection of campus was complete, Scott promptly drove over to the Townhouse 300s and proceeded to pick up the fattened beer cans, broken glass, and food scraps pressed into trodden dirt in front of the townhouses.
The 300s have been the center of party culture for many generations of St. Michael’s students, Cheney explained. “It’s always been the armpit because that’s where everything happens,” Cheney said. “We’re going to pick all that up Friday morning, and guess what they’re going to do tonight, party. And this same area is going to look like this again tomorrow morning.”
Scott Cheney’s experience on campus with students has been marked with various moments and interactions over the years. “There’s a lot of students that kind of treat us like ‘the garbage people’, and there’s other people that are thankful. So we get a mix. A lot of the time they don’t understand what we have to do,” Cheney said. “Sometimes they’re drunk and they’ll throw [beer cans] out their windows and it will hit us if we’re underneath them.”
The root of this problem, however, could be more than just an impulse decision to litter, explained Nicole Noce, “The students need healthy peer pressure. Calling people out and telling people to pick up their garbage. Owning that it’s our community and we don’t leave [campus] gross. We pick up after ourselves.”
Cheney, however, is not completely opposed to the party culture on campus.
“They can party all they want. They should be able to let loose. College is tough, college is really tough. So every once in a while they need to release. We don’t hold anything against them as far as that goes, it’s the whole picking up after them gets tiring,” Cheney said.
The time is 8:00 am. The Townhouse 300s lawns are nearly all clean, and parents and alumni are starting to trickle on to campus as Scott Cheney takes his fourth and final trash bin to the dumpster behind the parking lot.
Tomorrow morning, the second cleanup crew will come in and repeat the morning process that the grounds crew undergo every weekend, while Scott Cheney gets his day off before the busy week ahead.