Dorm Damage

Dorm Damage

Gabriel Baird

Sun Staffer

One of those college boys had kicked another hole in the drywall up on the second floor of Caroline Hall at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Maybe it was the one who smacks “Exit” signs off the ceiling so they dangle by their wires, or the one who shatters ceiling panels in the elevators, or the one who rips paper-towel dispensers from bathroom walls. Or it could have been one of the quiet students, one who attends all classes and completes assignments on time.

Saul Walker, 49, of College Park is one of the 52 full-time repairmen employed by the university to maintain its residence halls, and he doesn’t try to solve the mysteries of who vandalizes the dormitories or why. “It would bother me if I tried,” he said.

He would have plenty to get bothered about.

The 25,000 repairs that maintenance workers at the University of Maryland performed during the 2001-2002 school year cost $797,231, which comes directly from student room fees, said David B. Parker, assistant director of residential-facilities maintenance.

Walker, who has been on the job 13 months, believes that half of the repairs could be avoided if the students responsible for the damage paid for the work out of their own pockets.

“When you start working early, you stop breaking things,” said Walker, who started working at age 10, after his father died, to help pay his family’s bills and buy school supplies. “When these kids have to fix and pay for what they break, they’ll stop.”

It is hard to imagine Walker ever becoming as agitated as a former supervisor, who once used a nail-studded board to booby-trap a section of wall in which vandals continually punched holes, despite repeated repairs — and who was fired for it.

“You can’t let them get to you that way. It’s just a job,” Walker said. “The only thing they do is make you work.”

Walker treats students respectfully — for example, knowing that many sleep late, he tries to perform loud repairs after 10 a.m. However, that is not to say he never feels frustrated.

On a recent Tuesday morning, when he went to Caroline Hall to fix a hole in a wall, Walker was greeted by one of the university’s housekeepers.

Nan Sylla, 34, showed him a stairwell, its walls splashed with ink.

Back in the hallway, she watched Walker begin his repair.

“You really going to fix it again?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Walker said, pulling out the damaged drywall.

He would have to cut a 17-by-39-inch rectangle in the wall to repair it.

“You fix it now,” Sylla said. “They will break it again.”

He knew she was right. Of the nine dormitories in which he makes repairs, the second floor of Caroline Hall was one of the most vandalized. But his job is to make repairs, and he enjoys the work and the sense of accomplishment from a job well done.

At the campus carpentry shop, he cut a piece of drywall to patch the hole, then drove across campus to Caroline Hall.

He likes to finish work early in the building: The knee he injured playing linebacker for two years at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., often hurts and sometimes swells in the afternoon, and Caroline Hall has no elevator.

Favoring his good leg, he carried the patch and a 61.7-pound bucket of nonasbestos joint compound to the second floor.

After positioning the patch and placing a layer of mesh drywall tape around its edges, he used a trowel to apply the compound. He kept the layer thin — otherwise, someone could etch something obscene in it after he left it to dry.

When he returned the next morning to apply a second layer of plaster, a young woman nearby saw him working, and said she was glad he was fixing the hole.

“Mostly it’s the females like that,” he said.

He does not have the same troubles with their dorms.

“These guys, they don’t care,” he said. “If there’s a hole, there’s a hole.”

Some of the young men on the second floor of Caroline Hall try to keep things orderly. One hung a sign on a bathroom door reading, “Keep the bathroom clean!!!” Someone else had taken a marker and responded with an obscenity.

Two days later, Walker was on his way back to the second floor of Caroline Hall when another housekeeping employee stopped him and waved a photograph in front of his face.

“What’s that?” Walker asked.

The hole in the wall on the second floor, she said, visibly upset.

Holding his air-filtered sander, Walker said he was about to put the finishing touches on the repair.

No he wasn’t, the employee said. Someone had kicked in the area Walker had been repairing.

His hours of work, the cost of his repair, his careful craftsmanship were wasted. Walker put the sander in the back of his truck and drove to his next assignment.

“You can’t let it get to you. It’s just a job,” he said with a shrug and a smile, while thinking about using a board to reinforce his next repair.