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November 17, 2000
Volume 38, No. 7


University's access hinges on key employees
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University's access hinges on key employees

Jimmie Miller retrieves an original key from the Key Shop vault. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

Doors. University employees go through lots of them every day. They open and close, lock and unlock. And chances are they’re taken for granted.

That is, until they don’t work anymore—the handle catches, the hinges loosen. Then it’s time to call the Key Shop.

"Key Shop" is something of a misnomer. The University’s locksmiths work not only on locks and keys, but also on hinges, closing mechanisms, upper door stops, and all other door hardware. The shop employees include six locksmiths and supervisor Ted Vesely. Their work is overseen by Lou Galante, trade services manager.

  Donna Puls puts pins in a cylinder. The size and placement of the pins, stored in the box to her right, determines which keys will fit in a lock. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

"All our staff members are journeymen," Vesely says, referring to the certification earned by locksmiths after a four-year apprenticeship. "They’re familiar with lots of lock manufacturers, lots of kinds of commercial and residential locks."

And familiarity with lots of locks is a necessity. Although no statistics are available on the exact number of doors on campus, locksmith Kevin Puls, a 14-year Key Shop employee, remembers a 1990 estimate of 500,000 doors on campus. In the Iowa Memorial Union’s Main Lounge alone there are 67 doors. And because of the varied ages of buildings on campus, locksmiths must be familiar with locks that range from those that open with an old-fashioned iron key to electronic locks that open with key cards.

"Even electronic locks have an override," says Jimmie Miller, a 30-year shop employee. "It still comes down to a key."

For years the Key Shop was located in an old house at the corner of Court and Madison Streets. In July, it moved to more spacious digs on Burlington Street, in the Facilities Services Shops building. Its employees service all doors on campus, with the exception of those at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and cut more than 10,000 keys a year.

James Hicks searches for hinges on the Key Shop inventory shelves. Photo by Rex Bavousett.


The rhythm of campus life is reflected in the workdays of the Key Shop staff. Each summer they can count on replacing about 3,000 residence hall keys, and at the start of the school year, there is always a rush of keyless customers, as incoming faculty and staff members need access to offices and buildings.

"People suddenly remember they need 25 keys for their lab staff," says Donna Puls, who’s been at the Key Shop for 11 years.

Ongoing construction and remodeling projects keep Key Shop employees busy as well. They recently finished all the doors for the Biology Building East and are currently preparing locks for the doors of the Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences.

And finally there are the emergencies, such as when a student loses the key to his or her residence hall room and is locked out. Key Shop staff must replace the lock on the room within 24 hours.

Being locked out is one thing, but a real test of the Key Shop employees’ skills comes when someone is locked in.

"It happens in the music practice rooms sometimes," Donna Puls says. "The doors have special pick-proof locks, and even though it’s a natural reaction to pull hard on the door to get out, it makes them bind even tighter."


For assistance with emergency key problems and routine repairs, call FSG/Work Control Center at (33)5-5071.


"When that happens, the pressure’s on," Miller says. "You have to communicate with the person in the room, reassure them that everything will be fine, and let them know what you’re doing to get them out."

And they always get out.

Data on every key and every lock are recorded electronically and in paper records. A locked area of the shop is known as "The Vault," and in it, on specially built wooden shelves, are copies of all keys used on campus, as well as maps of the doors in each building, and code numbers of the keys that open those doors.

Key Shop staff feel good about their ability to handle emergencies, monitor sensitive security records, and work with the public.

"People say, ‘Hey key boy,’ " Vesely says. "I’m proud to be a key boy."

"We take pride in what we do," says Kevin Puls. "We’re here because it’s what we like."

Article by Linzee Kull McCray


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