UW-Madison Housing Locksmith Josh Armbruster treasures the essential trade of prioritizing repairs that foster residential safety for thousands of undergraduate students living on campus.
Armbruster — who began working for the university just over two years ago — is “often out and about in every resident hall to conduct repairs and complete core changes.” After learning the science of picking locks from his dad during Armbruster’s youth, the budding locksmith obtained an apprenticeship to garner relevant skills.
Now, Armbruster works at the intersection of maintenance, security and customer service to promote the livelihood of college students at UW-Madison.
“Last week I did 37 core changes alone,” Armbruster said, explaining that core changes are completed to re-secure rooms if a key is lost. “This doesn't account for any general repairs to major entries or resident rooms.”
Replacing and repairing hardware, returning and issuing keys, finishing core changes, managing master key systems and operating electronic access system functions are among a locksmith’s responsibilities, Armbruster said.
Armbruster’s services remained essential to keep campus operating when students fled home upon notification of campus closures last spring.
“Because not everyone could go home, we always maintained some level of residency so we needed to make sure the essential services were offered hence not everyone could work from home,” Armbruster said.
Armbruster said he helped Interim Director of Housekeeping Dan Bornemann contribute to the university’s emergency response team by delivering mask-making materials to university facilities for production. Duties performed by the emergency response team — such as finding ways to promote social distancing — “ultimately became the needs of the moment,” according to Armbruster.
“For a time, we housed medical staff in Dejope so they could be sure they were not bringing COVID home to their families,” Armbruster said. “We converted a number of residence halls into isolation halls so residents had a safe space to fight off the COVID infection. Nearly overnight our Capital Projects team built plexiglass shields around our buildings’ front desks to protect against transmission.”
Armbruster continues to work toward solving students’ problems while complying with public health and safety recommendations. Efficiency and positivity are essential during this semester, according to Armbruster.
“I hope that Housing is able to create a safe and welcoming space for all our residents to achieve their full potential,” he said. “I work to ensure that the security aspect is maintained, pandemic or not.”
Although health and safety remain concerns for in-person work, Armbruster said he wants to be able to help during crisis situations.
“Overall being an essential worker means that no matter what we face we still have services that need to be provided,” Armbruster said. “While there were risks to having been asked to work on site through the pandemic, I am glad to have worked with our team to provide the essential services for our residents.”