The floor of the historic, 110-year-old U.S. Post Office building in downtown Boulder is an elegant mix of white terrazzo tile and pink marble, but one would never have known that as of about a month ago. A century of wear dirtied the floor so thoroughly that it’s held a grubby, dark brown shade for so long that none of the post office’s current employees could recall its actual colors. As a custodian for 16 years at the USPS branch along Valmont Road in east Boulder, Fred Palombi was aware of the floor’s filthy state, but when he transferred to the downtown location, the grime’s days were officially numbered.
“I always knew what the floors looked like, and I never agreed with the maintenance manager that they should be like that. I had no ability to change it, though,” says Palombi, a scrappy 66-year-old who talks fast and with an unmistakable Jersey accent. “Once I got over here, I really took it upon myself.”
…He’s been slowly clearing off the rest of the first floor, alone at sunrise before the customers roll in to track mud. Thirty-four hours so far, he says, with another three or four months of work left. His plan is to clear off all the dirt and then polish the entire surface.
It’s a project to which he is deeply committed, often researching online about different products and techniques for hours on end. And, to the extent that it’s possible to get people riled up about clean floors, he’s done it.
“I think he has an amazing idea,” says custodian Patricia Alvarez, a colleague on the maintenance staff for seven years, and now an on-and-off aide in the floor project. “I actually thought that what he was doing was impossible.”
…He plans to retire next December, and has vowed to polish all floors and baseboards, plus the brass panels on every door, by the time he leaves….