Union in the News for March 7, 2006
'Free' laundry gets a college try New policy at Union
By Kenneth Aaron - The Times Union
If any Union College dorm dwellers are still among the great unwashed, they no longer have any excuse.
Because since January, laundry has been on the house at Union.
Union joined a growing number of campuses taking the coin boxes off washers and dryers -- yet one more amenity given to increasingly pampered students. The College of Saint Rose and Siena College are among the schools that have switched. And the University at Albany is considering going to "unlimited laundry," as one campus official put it.
"The idea is to give the student a convenience which is actually more like a necessity," said Mark Dembs, president of Statewide Laundry Services in Rochester. His company, which handles Union, Siena and Saint Rose, services 20 campuses; half of those have gone coin-free.
No more hunting for quarters. No more coin slots jammed with slugs or Canadian change. No more worrying about the debit-card reader not accepting students' debit cards. No more paying twice to finish half-dried laundry.
"The first term was a hassle," said Rebecca Garthwaite, a freshman tending a dryer Friday morning. The "free" laundry at Union isn't quite -- students pay a $50 fee for the privilege -- but so far, they've backed it wholeheartedly.
Any doubts that elaborate amenities aren't becoming more important in the competitive college landscape are shot down with a walk around almost any campus. "Just go to the fitness center, which is being renovated," said Tom McEvoy, Union's dean of residential and campus life. Apartment-style dorms, gussied up dining halls and professional-quality performance spaces are just a few of the features colleges offer today.
While schools can spin free laundry into a marketing tool, there's a larger reason to kick the quarter habit: The machines, and those coin slots, take a ton of abuse.
Students try to break into the machines for change. Or they'll get frustrated at a malfunctioning coin slot and do more damage.
"The issue was students vandalizing the coin box. Putting slugs in it," said Chris Oertel, Saint Rose's director of residential life. Free laundry means no more vandalism. It also means that students, no longer trying to save change by shoehorning three loads' worth of laundry into a single load, don't overwork the machines. That leads to fewer service calls.
All that free laundry isn't leaving campuses awash in runaway utility costs, either.
"To some extent, there is more use," Dembs said. "But this is not like having free Pepsi on campus and saying it's all-you-can-drink."
But should that perfect Friday-night outfit be stuck in the hamper, students will strike the laundry while they're hot to iron.
"If I have a pair of jeans that need to be washed, I'll run them through," said Jessica Adam, another Union freshman who was running a wash on Friday.
The biggest beneficiaries of the change would seem to be parents who are greeted with a bushel of dirty clothes along with their returning students.
Even with all the free laundry she can get, Union's Garthwaite admitted she still lugs some back to Connecticut on occasion.
"Mom's laundry always comes out the best," she said.