Every week, custodians are busy at Armstrong Auditorium. Inside, they are pushing yellow vacuum cleaners for several callus-forming hours, washing the windows on a lift 40 feet in the air, polishing metal water fountains until they are almost as reflective as the mirrors above them, wiping fingerprints off of the cherry paneling and mopping marble floors. This is the custodial crew in action: doing its part to uphold the Philadelphian standard.
The auditorium is in regular use, with Philadelphia Church of God services once a week and on holy days, frequent weekly recordings of the Key of David television programs, dance practices, concert performances, recitals and exhibit tours. The custodial staff’s objective is to make sure the dust, dirt, oil and other subtle signs of use don’t have the chance to build up. This requires an ongoing effort and a delicate touch befitting the quality of the building and the respect that PCG members have for what it represents.
Cleaning the 44,775 square-foot auditorium is a substantial undertaking. The custodial department has existed since the Church purchased an office facility in downtown Edmond in 1991. The purchase of property and the construction of the John Amos Field House in 2001 required the crew to become larger and more organized. In 2008, California member Daniel Lamberth, who had 16 years of custodial experience, was hired to lead a crew of part-time college students to keep up with the demands of the growing campus. The department also benefitted from a 2012 donation of equipment by members in Indiana that included vacuums, a carpet extractor, a buffer and other tools, including much-needed grouting machines.
Today, Lamberth leads a crew of several Herbert W. Armstrong College students who clean the auditorium every day. Lamberth divides the crew into teams assigned with tasks, such as vacuuming vestibules, polishing stairwell handrails, or cleaning the restrooms.
Lamberth said about his greatest challenge in cleaning the auditorium, “To me, it is, Are we doing God’s standard? Since God is a perfectionist.”
The custodial staff vacuums carpets in the theater, basement, hallways, dressing rooms, coat check room, office, vestibules and lobby. Because of the quality of the building and what it represents, the crew vacuums in specific patterns for areas between chair rows of chairs, down aisles, in vestibules, in hallways, and in the lobby—while taking care not to bump the cherry wood baseboards.
Armed with vinyl gloves, paper towels and polishing rags, the crew spends hours vigorously scrubbing to remove the layer of fingerprints left by guests holding the brass railing as they use the marble stairs. The custodian rubs polishing agent on the railing, uses a paper towel to remove its residue, then finishes by polishing with a clean, soft rag. The job is done when the eight flights of hand rails reflect the sore hands that have finished polishing them and are ready for the next task.
The auditorium bathrooms are cleaned differently from the other buildings on campus, since their granite countertops require a special disinfectant. Custodians also clean, wipe and polish the stainless-steel paper towel dispensers and garbage cans of even water marks so that the symmetrical metal grain is not obscured.
“It’s not normal cleaning because of the quality of the building,” said Lamberth. “Not everything can be cleaned the normal way.”
When students are on breaks and working eight-hour days, they are tasked with more detailed work, such as using tool attachments to vacuum the 823 chenille velour chairs, sweeping bugs from tile floors, removing ink stains on chairs or floors, hand-wiping metal door thresholds and removing scuff marks from the baseboards. The baseboards cannot be rubbed or scrubbed, since that would alter the luster of the wood’s finish. Instead, custodians use a certain amount of water to wipe according to the grain. This is a similar method to that used to remove the fingerprints accumulated by the handfuls on the auditorium’s many other cherry surfaces, such as bathroom stall doors.
Although they are largely unseen, custodians play a part in Armstrong Auditorium’s Armstrong International Cultural Foundation Performing Arts series. The crew spends an average of eight manhours before a concert freshening the bathrooms, adding crispness to the vacuumed patterns in the royal purple carpet, and dusting the wood paneling so that arriving concertgoers see the auditorium at its best.
Once the concert has begun and the guests are almost all in the theater, the custodians emerge from the hallway on a mission, pushing their yellow carts laden with the tools of the trade: polishing cloths, paper towel restocks, toilet scrubbers, and other equipment. Four groups rapidly clean the four bathrooms on both levels with the objective of leaving them as pristine in the middle of the concert as they were before the first guest arrived. After the last note has been sung or played and guests have finished conversing with artists, staff members and each other and left for the night, the custodians reemerge to complete their mission with a final clean of vacuuming and mopping the main floor and the crumbs left behind from concessions in the balcony.
Students clean immediately after concerts and other auditorium events, such as the annual seven-day Feast of Tabernacles. Students clean every day immediately after services (waiting until after sunset on high days and Sabbaths).
During a regular week, Armstrong Auditorium is cleaned every day, with eight auditorium custodial staff spending an average of 34 manhours each week. The amount of time required has doubled with the opening of the Seals of Isaiah and King Hezekiah exhibit, which requires at least three hours to scrub bathrooms, vacuum carpets and dust wood.
During the typical work week, the crew cleans the auditorium every Sunday morning. If they did not, “God’s house will be dirty for a whole day after the Sabbath,” said Lamberth. “I don’t believe He’d like that.”
Lamberth said that the way the cleaning schedule for the auditorium worked out was miraculous. Initially, custodians cleaned the building on Monday, rather than Sunday, the day after services. Yet working out conflicts in the schedule proved to be a struggle, and it was difficult to complete the work in time and preserve the students’ 20-hour work weeks while college was in session. Lamberth brought the situation to buildings and grounds department head Wayne Turgeon, who reminded him, “six days shall you work.” Lamberth built the suggestion into his new schedule.
“After that, all the scheduling lined up,” and all of the work was completed within the students’ 20-hour work time frame. Lamberth said in regards to the decision to clean on Sundays, “I believe he was inspired.”
Visitors to the auditorium have remarked on its high standard of cleanliness.
“We have seen three musical events at the Armstrong Auditorium, and are always impressed by how beautiful it is!” said one TripAdvisor.com user. “It is a superb concert space every seat has a stunning view. And the entire structure is plush and sparkling. Added to this, they have a habit of presenting truly wonderful performers.”
“The auditorium was beautiful,” the Moscow Festival Ballet remarked on Trip Advisor. “It was clean, well-organized, and the staff were pleasant and helpful.”
Student custodian Zechariah Henderson said the auditorium “is not like any other building. I do feel a certain amount of increased pressure cleaning the auditorium just because it has been getting so many tourists, it’s where we have Sabbath services, it’s God’s House …. [W]e try to do a good job everywhere, but particularly in the auditorium we try to raise the standard there for sure.”
Student custodian Mikaylah Lorenz said cleaning the building meant “seeing God’s house in a different perspective. I thought, Wow, this is a massive job, it’s a massive auditorium, it’s worth a lot financially, and its worth a lot spiritually too, and they are trusting me, a freshman, to clean it. It puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure that you pick up that piece of rubbish, or wipe that mirror better.”
In his dedication prayer for the auditorium’s predecessor, Ambassador Auditorium, Herbert W. Armstrong said, “I ask you, Almighty God, to bless it and protect it in every way—to preserve it, because you are the great Creator, and you’re the Creator who preserves that which you create. So we ask you to preserve this immaculate and clean and beautiful, and keep it clean to represent clean and honest, forthright character.”
Six days a week, the custodial staff continues to keep physical quality and spiritual quality in mind in maintaining an appealing and clean Armstrong Auditorium.