New mats keep the mess out of the MU

Zodiac mat

Students walk on a custom shaped mat that surrounds the zodiac in an entryway to the Memorial Union. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Faculty, staff students and guests entered the Memorial Union (MU) approximately 1.26 million times in 2022. They had books, backpacks and coats, but more than anything, their shoes carried in 1,259 pounds of dirt the custodial staff had to remove.

MU custodial services manager George Loper went to work to clean up the situation, not by tasking his crews with additional hours of sweeping and vacuuming, but by improving the matting system at the entrances. It included a custom  mat around the zodiac and a runner to help set off Gold Star Hall.

"We don't have to take dirt out that we don't let into the building," Loper said. "The mats are a solution to more cleaning, which was time consuming."

Replacing the old mats with higher quality ones means custodians went from cleaning a 15-foot area around the mats to three or four feet, Loper said. The 16 mats arrived in April for six entrances -- north, east, south, west, in the basement and the back ramp -- and four runners in front of the elevator or high-traffic areas. The early results are promising, but Loper and his staff know that the big test arrives with winter.

"When winter came around last year, the custodians put a lot of work into the floor, whether they scrubbed and coated them, or scrubbed, stripped and waxed them," he said.

The numbers

An MU study found 3.45 pounds of dirt entered the building each day. To remove one pound costs approximately $500-$600 in labor, equaling $2,070 a day. The new mats -- which have a life of seven to 10 years -- cut the amount of dirt that makes it past the entrance by 70%. The new mats save an average of $1,452 a day in operating costs or $91,841 a year. Over the next seven years, savings reach $642,000.

Loper worked with Mats Inc. of St. Louis to research and place the proper mats.

Protecting the MU

The MU has a two-mat system at each entry. A wiper/scraper mat in the entryway captures larger dirt particles and moisture from shoes. After an individual passes through a second set of doors, an interior wiper mat removes any remaining dirt and moisture. The overall use of each entrance decides the length and size of a mat.

Loper's team measured each entrance and installed mats of various lengths. The goal is to have at least 15 feet, but most entrances have more. The American Institute of Architects reported that five feet of mat captures 33% of walked-in debris, 10 feet collects 52% and 20-25 feet captures as much as 100% of what's on the bottom of shoes.

The mats have strong rubber backing and more effective bristles than their predecessors which keeps them from slipping. They promote safety and are more pleasing to look at. Ensuring the new mats did not change the look of the MU was important since the building contains some of the most notable features across campus, Loper said.

"We were always concerned with the look of each mat because there is a lot more at stake than the custodial division benefiting from mats," he added.

Loper credits his staff for making the new mats a reality. They took on additional work for six months, postponing the need for additional custodians. The money saved paid for the mats.

"Prior to getting the new mats it really seemed like a never-ending battle to keep any kind of debris out of the building," said MU custodian Derek Bjelland. "I think it makes a huge difference."

Instead of scrubbing and cleaning mats several times a day, custodial staff vacuum once every other day, and the hard rubber back allows for them to be turned, swept and put back. The time saved allows custodians to focus on other aspects of their work.

Terrazzo floor finish

To further protect the MU floors, the custodial staff is restoring the original 1923 trazel coating on the terrazzo flooring. It will eliminate future stripping or waxing, Loper said. The process, which prevents anything from sticking to the floor, is complete at the north entrance and around the M-Shop west entrance, with staff preparing to move to the second and third floors.