Celebrating two Friday Harbor Labs staff teams

Posted August 4, 2022 at 8:39 am by

Friday Harbor Labs staffers Lee Ann, Molly, and Rhonda — Contributed photo

Fri­day Har­bor Labs shares a look at a few staff mem­bers whose hard work and ded­i­ca­tion keeps the cam­pus run­ning smoothly.

If you haven’t spent time at Fri­day Har­bor Labs, you may not real­ize that it is a minia­ture uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus, with its own hous­ing (dorms, cot­tages, and oth­er units), full-ser­vice din­ing hall, library, and lec­ture spaces in addi­tion to the lab build­ings, research equip­ment, sea­wa­ter sys­tem, and dock oper­a­tions. Over 60 build­ings, from large dor­mi­to­ries and labs to one-per­son huts, are scat­tered over the rough­ly 30-acre cam­pus that com­pris­es the “devel­oped” part of the 476-acre FHL preserve.

The cam­pus receives elec­tric­i­ty and fresh­wa­ter from Coun­ty and Town util­i­ties and sends its waste­water to the Town treat­ment plant via a com­plex net­work of con­duit, pipes and – in the case of waste­water – lift sta­tions. Anoth­er net­work of pipes, extend­ing from one end of cam­pus to the oth­er, sup­plies the lifeblood of FHL research and edu­ca­tion: run­ning sea­wa­ter, deliv­ered to over 150 tanks inside and among the lab build­ings. The cam­pus grounds, build­ings and asso­ci­at­ed infra­struc­ture, some of it dat­ing back to the ear­ly 1920s, require a lot of per­son-pow­er to keep func­tion­ing and clean. Today we sing the prais­es of the large­ly unseen and unsung main­te­nance and cus­to­di­al crews who pro­vide that power.

The upkeep of every­thing – from mow­ing the cam­pus grounds to repair­ing sea­wa­ter pumps – is the purview of our small but amaz­ing main­te­nance crew: Doug (super­vi­sor), George, Tom­my, Dan and David. When cam­pus is busy, as it thank­ful­ly is right now, much of their time is spent respond­ing to urgent sit­u­a­tions: an indoor sea­wa­ter flood, a mal­func­tion­ing cold room ther­mo­stat, a clogged toi­let, or any of a thou­sand oth­er small and large issues that need imme­di­ate atten­tion. (Out of neces­si­ty, all crew mem­bers must be jacks-of-all-trades). When cam­pus is qui­eter, the team can focus on ongo­ing projects such as ren­o­va­tion work.

Sys­tems that require both short-term fix­es and long-term work are the aging fresh­wa­ter and waste­water pipes. At least once a year, some­where on cam­pus a fresh­wa­ter pipe sud­den­ly breaks, requir­ing an imme­di­ate, all-hands-on-deck response. The loca­tions of these major breaks and minor leaks are often dif­fi­cult to iden­ti­fy, requir­ing sub­stan­tial detec­tive work by the crew. Over time, water line repairs have sub­stan­tial­ly tight­ened up FHL’s con­sump­tion of this pre­cious island resource. While they work to stem the flow the water out of pipes, the crew also faces the prob­lem of water flow­ing into pipes – name­ly, ground­wa­ter enter­ing cracked and oth­er­wise com­pro­mised sew­er lines. For years, due to this inflow and infil­tra­tion in fall and win­ter, the vol­ume of waste­water that FHL was send­ing to the water treat­ment plant far exceed­ed the vol­ume of fresh water it received from Town. With the treat­ment plant need­less­ly pro­cess­ing thou­sands of gal­lons of ground­wa­ter, FHL con­tem­plat­ed dig­ging up the entire sub­ter­ranean infra­struc­ture of cam­pus and replac­ing thou­sands of feet of pipe.

Enter high tech. Doug brought in a Tumwa­ter-based com­pa­ny spe­cial­iz­ing in ditch­less pipe repair. The com­pa­ny fed cam­eras through the often unmapped lines, find­ing an alarm­ing num­ber of weak­ness­es and breaks in the pipes. Then came the fun part – they insert­ed flex­i­ble cured-in-place pipe into each com­pro­mised sec­tion of exist­ing pipe, then ran an ultra­vi­o­let light through the insert to hard­en and anneal it to the inner sur­face of the orig­i­nal pipe, thus cre­at­ing a like-new sec­tion of very slight­ly small­er diam­e­ter than the orig­i­nal. While these repairs were tak­ing place, FHL expe­ri­enced a coin­ci­dent break in a water main run­ning under the dorms. After con­sul­ta­tion with the same com­pa­ny, Doug had them install a lin­ing in that pipe – one designed for lines car­ry­ing potable water. Com­plet­ed ear­li­er this year, the new­ly-lined sew­er pipes and water main are expect­ed to last for 50-plus years. The approach saved a very expen­sive, time-con­sum­ing, and mud­dy mess, and we are so glad that the crew looked out­side the box for a solution.

Even more invis­i­ble than the keep­ing-it-all-togeth­er work of the main­te­nance crew is the keep­ing-it-all-clean work of the cus­to­di­al team – Lee Ann (super­vi­sor), Kathy, Mol­ly and Rhon­da. They keep not only the hous­ing units but also the offices and lab spaces clean – not an easy job with high turnover, mud­dy boots, and old build­ings – and researchers whose minds are more on the sci­ence they are doing than the mess they are mak­ing. By the end of 2022 they will have cleaned at a min­i­mum all rooms in three under­grad­u­ate dorms and 15 huts nine times each, plus dai­ly clean­ing of dorm bath­rooms and hall­ways; all rooms in grad­u­ate stu­dent dorms four times each; and oth­er hous­ing units about 700 times total. And this is a fair­ly easy year com­pared to pre-COVID times when we host­ed more con­fer­ences. Their biggest accom­plish­ment is in part a psy­cho­log­i­cal one – clean­ing almost all the units on cam­pus in one day dur­ing one of our big turnovers (e.g. between our two sum­mer course ses­sions), and still return­ing to work to do it all over again, and do it well.

Besides the day-to-day chal­lenge of over­com­ing dirt – and entropy, we sci­en­tists might say – the cus­to­di­al team has man­aged to make grad­ual improve­ments in the hous­ing units. Dur­ing the win­ter when cam­pus is rel­a­tive­ly qui­et, they do intense detail­ing of the units, grad­u­al­ly get­ting them up to a high­er stan­dard of clean­li­ness. They replace old pots and pans, swap out fur­ni­ture and appli­ances that have out­lived their use­ful­ness, and improve our car­bon foot­print by putting recy­cle con­tain­ers in each hous­ing unit to encour­age recycling.

The team of course deals with unpleas­ant mess­es, but also has some amus­ing sto­ries. Each cus­to­di­an has an elec­tric golf cart in which they car­ry clean­ing sup­plies and linens around cam­pus. One ear­ly morn­ing when Lee Ann was clean­ing dorm bath­rooms, some stu­dents took her golf cart for a joy ride. Luck­i­ly it came back in one piece. Lee Ann also has rac­coon sto­ries: “No one told me when I first start­ed not to leave food in my golf cart. I was clean­ing the Lec­ture Hall one morn­ing and looked out the win­dow to see one rac­coon with my banana and anoth­er with my break­fast bar, hap­pi­ly munch­ing away. Anoth­er ear­ly morn­ing Eliz­a­beth and I were hav­ing cof­fee in the din­ing hall. It was the mid­dle of win­ter so no one was around. We kept hear­ing loud nois­es under the floor by the pool table. When we walked over to check it out there was a rac­coon paw stick­ing up through a hole in the floor, feel­ing around. We fig­ured it was look­ing for a handout!”

The sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies at the Labs are only pos­si­ble due to the tire­less efforts of our esteemed staff, includ­ing those who keep the sea­wa­ter flow­ing and our spaces free of clut­ter. They are inte­gral to the com­mu­ni­ty that has devel­oped at our marine sta­tion and we are proud of them. A big thanks from all our stu­dents and sci­en­tists for all they do!

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