The big move: 10,000 boxes shipped by students and 800 sets of furniture

man in mask checking boxes

Pitt received 978 50-pound boxes of student belongings on July 31 alone — the original deadline day for students to mail up to five boxes each to their fall dorms rooms — but on Aug. 3, Matt Sloan was at Pitt’s Wilkinsburg warehouse awaiting 1,800 boxes.

Sloan, overseeing the Ship2Pitt program as director of logistics and printing services, arrived at the warehouse at 4 a.m., when a 42-ton UPS tractor-trailer truck arrived with 500 more boxes on pallets. They were unloaded before 6:30 a.m.

Student workers check in boxes at Nordenberg Hall.Six smaller trucks would be arriving throughout the day, each with 300 more boxes. And there is more to come — the deadline for students to ship their materials was extended to 10 days before their move-in date, which began on Aug. 11 and runs through Aug. 28.

In all, 10,000 pre-paid shipping labels offered by Pitt had been generated by July 31, and more than 5,000 boxes had already arrived, Sloan reported. Half of the arrivals had been moved to the dorm or hotel rooms Pitt is leasing this year to reduce room occupation levels because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the 5,000-square-foot warehouse has been filled at times in the past month, Sloan said: “We needed every inch of it, I can tell you that. We do have to stack them to the ceiling.” Happily, the students have done a good job of packing and sealing their boxes properly; no box has arrived with oddly shaped items protruding or anything of the sort, Sloan said.

He has been putting in 14-hour days, leading a crew of three people unloading and three scanning in the arriving boxes. “It could get worse, depending on the week,” he said, since many students will have waited until the last minute to ship their stuff, he guessed.

“It’s a huge team effort,” he said, which includes Pitt staff from printing offices and those volunteering to move over from the parking office and elsewhere, working alongside union drivers and movers. They were busy at work this past weekend.

For instance, on the morning of Aug. 3, Teamster drivers dropped off 15 pallets of boxes to Nordenberg Hall and five staff volunteers began hauling boxes to rooms, using housing hampers, dollies and 4-wheeled carts.

“I think we’re the first to take it to this level,” Sloan says of the shipping program, by partnering with UPS to create a Pitt-branded portal. He has already been asked to speak about the experience to colleagues at the next National Association of College and University Mail Services conference, which is normally in October.

“I’m proud of the program,” he said, “and proud of everyone who is here, especially the volunteers and the ones who don’t normally do it, showing up at 4:30 in the morning with coffee and ready to move.”

Furniture moving is a whole other operation

Dorm furniture in Wyndham hotel room

While professional moving companies were hired to de-densify Pitt dorm rooms by hauling some of their furniture to 800 hotel rooms in Oakland — at the Residence Inns at University Medical Center and University Place, and the Wyndham at University Center — Matt Walaan’s logistics team of five has been working to decide what to move, and is right now overseeing its placement and set up.

At Nordenberg Hall, for instance, many double rooms are now singles, while dorm furniture — beds, dressers, desks, desk chairs and wardrobes or closets (where hotel rooms lack their own built-in clothes-storage facilities) — has created doubles in some hotel rooms, since each has a private bathroom.

“Students will have the same experience they would have on campus,” said Walaan, assistant vice chancellor for Auxiliary Business Administration and Maintenance, overseeing the maintenance of all on-campus housing locations, University-owned off-campus apartments and dining facilities, among other duties.

With a quarter of all first-year students living in hotels, “we moved over 800 sets of furniture,” he said. Another 200 rooms in the hotels are keeping their original furniture, either for student lounges or single rooms for resident assistants.

The move is nearly complete, Walaan reported. The moving companies followed Pitt’s own COVID-19 safety precautions, he said, and the hotel staff is set to perform a fresh disinfection of the furniture.

But, of course, the students won’t have daily hotel cleaning services. In fact, Walaan’s office has devised a “Pitt Shines” kit for students in both residence halls and hotel rooms. The kits offer cleaning supplies and are intended to guide students in cleaning their private bathrooms properly.

“We are really relying on the students to make sure they’re living in a clean environment,” he said; hotel staff will continue to take care of public areas in their buildings, from signage to cleaning.

The entire furniture-moving and cleaning process will have to be done in reverse, Walaan acknowledged — “whenever this ends.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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