LAS CRUCES – When many workplaces began shutting down in March 2020 and New Mexicans were told to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, not everyone had the opportunity to hunker down and reduce their risk. Many employees in New Mexico State University’s Facilities and Services department were tasked with holding down the fort and working around the clock to maintain campus.
“We still had to stay here as essential employees and maintain the upkeep of the buildings,” said Danny Aguirre, supervisor at NMSU’s F&S mechanical shop. “The systems were still running and there was no one here other than Facilities and Services.”
Aguirre has been on the team since 2007. He said the biggest obstacle at the beginning of the pandemic was continuing to work and lead the team amid so many unknowns from the virus. He and others who are long-time employees at the shop counted on one another more than ever.
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“It’s more respect with each other as coworkers,” he said. “I think with that respect, it plays a big part as far as the teamwork. They know that I try to support them in everything they do and how they do it. We try to make sure that the quality and the expectation that we’re trying to provide is there and exceptional.”
Another long-time employee is Sabino Ramirez, HVAC lead, who has been with NMSU’s F&S since 2003. He said as the virus began impacting more people on campus, that started to affect the workload.
“There were times when students tested positive for COVID-19, and we had to reschedule days to where we could repair what was broken in their dorms, and there were some technicians that were probably in contact with some of them,” said Ramirez. “So that shortened our staff and gave us double the work.”
Even with increasing workloads, lending a helping hand was no question for this team, especially during hard times.
“We have a great group of people in this shop. They come in and they give it 110% every day. Doesn’t matter what’s going on – they come here to provide their service. That’s all we can ask for, and make sure that we’re safe whenever we go into the buildings while making sure the rest of the campus is taken care of,” Aguirre said.
The team said there’s always work that’s being done beneath the surface, and while many may not immediately notice, it doesn’t stop the grind to ensure necessities like electricity, plumbing, and water systems on campus are working properly.
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“There’s a lot of stuff that happens underground that no one really knows about,” said Sam Gonzales, lead plumber. “The students may not have been here, but in those buildings, we’re inside the tunnels repairing everything we can. You may not have seen us out and about, but we’re working nonstop. With our workload, people would get sick or even just following the regulations, we would have smaller crews and it was a lot. It was triple the workload, but we did it. We stuck together.”
In February 2022, Chancellor Dan Arvizu and Vice Chancellor Ruth Johnston visited with members of the F&S team and toured the buildings in the department. Employees were able to share details on the background of their everyday duties, and voice their feedback about the workflow situation, especially with the staffing issues created by the pandemic.
“We appreciate all the work that’s being done on a constant basis to provide the best quality experience at NMSU for students, faculty, staff and visitors,” Arvizu said. “Getting a firsthand look at the work being done by this team was very eye-opening, and their hard work is seen and valued by all of us in the NMSU community.”
Even as they continue to adjust to change in many ways, one thing will remain consistent for this team.
“We’re going to keep the teamwork going,” said Aguirre. “We’re trying to do everything that we can to make sure that we provide the safest environment possible for people to come and work.”
Watch a quick video on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Pp6h8Oons8M.
Tatiana Favela writes for New Mexico State University Marketing and Communications and can be reached at 575-646-3221 ext. 7953, or by email at [email protected]
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