Latoka Rest Area shines: It wins maintenance award for 'most improved'Traveling along Interstate 94, whether from Fargo, North Dakota to Minneapolis or on Interstate 35 from Albert Lea to Duluth, hundreds of thousands of motorists each year take advantage of the numerous rest areas strategically placed along their designated route.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Traveling along Interstate 94, whether from Fargo, North Dakota to Minneapolis or on Interstate 35 from Albert Lea to Duluth, hundreds of thousands of motorists each year take advantage of the numerous rest areas strategically placed along their designated route.
One of those stops – the Lake Latoka Rest Area on Interstate 94 three miles northwest of Alexandria – was recently honored by Green View, Inc. and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
The Excellence in Maintenance – Most Improved Rest Area Award was presented to the seven-member crew who work diligently at maintaining a clean environment at the Lake Latoka Rest Area. The rest area, along with the Lake Burgen Rest Area, is led by Ed Novotny of Alexandria. He is the crew leader at both stops.
Don Knutson of Green View, Inc. presented Novotny and his crew – Herb Hoppe, Lloyd Johnson, Don James, Ken Tvedt, Gary Larson and Bernie Korkowski – with a plaque last Friday.
Green View is a non-profit organization that employs older workers at state, county and local government facilities across Minnesota, including state-owned rest areas.
Knutson said that nearly all the custodial and maintenance workers at Minnesota rest areas are employed through Green View, Inc. MnDOT takes care of the mechanical-type work that needs to be done, he noted. Green View works in partnership with the state.
All Green View employees are 55 years of age or older, with the average age being closer to 70, he said. Knutson noted there are many rest area workers who are in their 80s.
He explained that there are 55 rest areas within the state – 35 of which are along the Interstate – that compete for the coveted most improved award. In addition to nabbing this year’s honor, the Lake Latoka Rest Area was ranked fourth overall based on criteria set by Green View.
“The award comes about with strong support from MnDOT,” said Knutson.
All rest areas are subject to seven unannounced inspections throughout the year from Green View. There are more than 30 different items on the inspection checklist ranging from overall appearance, lawn care, first impressions, public visibility, cleanliness of toilets and urinals to quality of equipment, log books and cleaning products.
Some of the items are rated on a scale from 1 to 5, while others are rated from 1 to 3, said Knutson.
To determine who was the most improved, Knutson said Green View looks at the total effort and which site has the most improved score overall compared to the previous year. The Lake Latoka Rest Area has won the most improved award previously and is most often listed in the top 10 for rests areas in the state.
He explained that Green View employees who work at the rest areas generally work between 25 and 30 hours per week.
The Latoka rest stop was built in 1996, while the Lake Burgen rest area was built in 1967, according to Novotny.
Novotny, who left his “real job” in 1990, was retired for about three days when he learned about the job at the rest area. He took it and has been there for nearly 17 years.
His job consists of keeping the bathrooms clean by wiping down the mirrors, the sinks, the toilets and hand dryers as well as stocking the toilet paper, removing snow and cutting grass.
“The cleaning is constant,” he said. “It’s kind of the code word around here.”
Novotny estimated that he changes anywhere from 37 to 45 rolls of toilet paper per day, although he does remember hitting closer to 50 one day.
He also noted that there is a lot more traffic in the summertime. “It’s pretty close to double the amount of traffic in summer,” he thought, adding that the opening of any season seems to be busier, such as fishing opener or the camping season.
One year, workers at the Lake Burgen Rest Stop kept track of the states represented by motorists who stopped in. “All but two states were represented,” said Novotny.
Workers also track semi-trucks that stop at the rest areas. They log the number of trucks parked at three different times – at 10 p.m., at midnight and at 1 a.m. – for MnDOT. “I remember one time when I left at 1 a.m. there were 27 trucks and when I got back to work at 6 a.m. there were 27 trucks,” said Novotny.
While joking with another worker, he told the guy that the rest stop must not have been very busy that particular night. Novotny said the guy chuckled and said, “Are you kidding me? There was a total of 90 trucks in and out of here tonight!”
Novotny said he couldn’t believe it.
“We have a lot of truckers who use these rest areas,” he said. “This is home to a lot of them.”