Custodian sees dirty underside of students' day

Published April 27, 2007

Bathrooms, of all things, have made news in the past few months.

In February, two students were caught having sex in a stall at Jefferson High School.

Then last month Freedom High School made national news when the principal locked the bathrooms after students covered walls with graffiti and clogged toilets.

Indeed, high school bathrooms have gotten so bad even students try to avoid them.

But some people can't: the custodians whose job it is to keep them tidy.

I don't know about you, but I suspected cleaning up after high-schoolers might be the dirtiest job in Tampa.

To get the scoop, I sought an expert. I called a long list of custodians, finally catching Bob Patten taking a break during his 3 to 11:30 p.m. shift at Durant High School. I had a few questions for him. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:

What kind of, uh, things do you see?

Well, there's graffiti. There's urine on walls. Urine on the toilet paper holders -just a total lack of respect. There's bowel movements in urinals. That's a common occurrence.

I'm trying to imagine urine on toilet paper holders. You must mean in boys rooms?

Boys rooms are the dirtiest. Girls are a close second. Sanitary napkins thrown down. There's certain bathrooms that are worse. It's bad in the gym bathrooms.

What do you do? (You can picture the face I'm making.)

I just straighten, clean up. I spray with (disinfectant) and then use a hand mop.

How long have you been doing this?

I've been in this business 30 years. I started here last August. I was working in hospitals before.

Then you must like it?

The fact that you have to clean up doesn't make you happy, but ...

Is it different than cleaning up after hospital patients?

That (students) are doing it intentionally; it does make you mad. There's a lack of discipline. They're allowed to run roughshod. They don't care.

Any suggestions on how to improve it?

Stronger discipline from school administrators. When I was in high school, we had surprise visits from faculty in bathrooms. We never did anything like this. Things have changed.

What about locking the bathrooms?

They should close them off when they're not needed. Some kids like to hide out.

What's the worst you've had to clean?

Some kid got crazy and smeared feces on the wall and floor.

How are things tonight?

Not that bad. Toilet paper all over the floors. Paper towels all over. Not that bad.

So I guess you're looking forward to retiring soon?

Nah. There's a good crew here. We all get along. I enjoy the camaraderie.