The Conveniences of Home: Campus Kitchens and Laundry Rooms

Most schools are offering laundry facilities in their student housing, and kitchens of some form are becoming more popular. According to Mike Calderaro, vice president of the Academic Division of Intirion Corporation, a wholly owned manufacturing of Mac Gray services, “Laundry rooms are a requirement and kitchens are still sort of an option. They’re becoming more popular in the private school sector than the public.” Calderaro cited College Planning & Management’s 2009 College Housing Report, where 100 percent of public universities reporting had laundry rooms but only 74 percent had kitchens.

The reason for this difference in what’s offered? Calderaro attributes it to the number of appliances needed. “I think the simplicity of the laundry rooms, in that you only need two appliances to make it 100-percent effective — you need a washer and a dryer — is one of the reasons why its such a requirement. In the kitchen arena, there’s a multitude of appliances that can be instrumental in its success.” Schools offering kitchens often include a sink, countertop, and fridge. Garbage disposals, cook tops, and stoves are generally left out due to safety reasons.

Where Are They?
Many schools are opting for centrally located laundry and kitchen facilities in residence halls. “The biggest advantage is that those schools that have a central kitchen, not only does it provide the students with the ability to heat food and feed themselves, but then it becomes a community. The kitchen table is a gathering area for conversation, social networking, building relationships, and getting to know your friends,” explained Calderaro. “It’s a springboard not just for eating, but for improving your social life.”

According to Randy Karn, national sales manager for Maytag and Whirlpool Commercial Laundry, schools and suppliers find centrally located laundry facilities more efficient. “The more spread out the machines are, the less usage they’re going to get. Therefore, whoever is supplying the machines or the university is not going to get as much income or efficiency out of the product from water and electrical use, etc.” Students, he joked, would probably like their washer and dryer next to their beds.

As new facilities are built, laundry rooms are moving closer to students. “Not necessarily in their rooms by their beds,” Karn explained, “but trying to get closer to floor-by-floor. The disadvantage is that the machines don’t get as much usage, so there isn’t as much efficiency, and it’s more cost to the university.” Ideally central laundry rooms are the best for everybody, but to cater more to students, the trend is floor-by-floor placement.

What’s Included?
Kitchens in residence halls aren’t fully equipped like a kitchen at a student’s home. “If you put a stove or an oven or a cook top in a kitchen, you ultimately run the risk of a grease fire because somebody’s going to cook bacon or something on there that’s not appropriate,” Calderaro stated. But, schools are moving towards including larger appliances. “The refrigerator that they were putting in simply that, with a freezer compartment that you had to manually defrost. Now they are moving to a more upscale refrigerator — it’s not going to be stainless — but its going to have a large capacity.” The more upscale refrigerator options are often automatically defrosted and have racks instead of shelves (when something spills, it won’t necessarily drip throughout the fridge). Microwaves are also larger in capacity.

According to Karn, most colleges and universities are under a lot of pressure to reduce their overall carbon footprint, support green initiatives, or even reduce utility costs. “One of the easiest ways to do that is to switch from older style inefficient top loaders to similar-size front-loading machines, which use less than half the water.”

“You certainly see almost every school now moving away from top-loads to front-loads,” added Calderaro. Universities improve their utility bills and environmental impact and provide students with something new that works better when used correctly.

Laundry facilities also now may include some type of software or technology to improve the service to students. Students are able to communicate via text message with the machines, which alert them when their loads are done. Machines can also send messages to their service providers when something goes wrong.

Who Takes Care of This?
Kitchens are most likely the college or university’s responsibility. “The facilities or maintenance department has to go in on a daily basis and clean them,” explained Calderaro. “And they also have to maintain them. Those work orders generally flow internally.” If a student discovers that the microwave isn’t working, they generally notify their RA. The RA then has to send a work order through their internal workflow process, which will go to the maintenance department. Then, someone from maintenance will come and fix it.

“The laundry room, as a rule, those are contracted out. The vendor has the responsibility for servicing and maintaining the equipment,” stated Calderaro. Because the laundry rooms are still on school premises, the university does have the responsibility to keep the room clean.

Karn explained the outsourcing of laundry maintenance to laundry professionals, or route professionals. “It’s really a good deal for the schools because that route operator will supply the machine at no cost to the school, so there’s no capital outlay.” The supplier or route operator then services the machines at no cost to the university. “If the university owns the machines, then they have to take responsibility for getting them repaired, whether it’s paying somebody to come do it or have their own maintenance people do it, and that isn’t always the easiest to take care of.”

With the trend toward installing high-efficiency top-loading machines comes another challenge: training students to use them. Students often come from homes having used only a front-loading washer, if they’ve done laundry at all. Front-loading machines work most efficiently when they are used correctly, which may mean some training. Often machines come with easy-to-follow directions on the equipment or placed in highly visible areas of the laundry room. “Most suppliers try to work with students at the beginning of the semester, or at least train the RAs,” Karn said.  If a problem does happen, the RA at least can help other students. “There is a little bit of trial and error.”