New Mexico's State University 's locksmith employees

April 12--LAS CRUCES -- More than 12,000 doors open and close on New Mexico's State University's campus, and Jerry Jersvig is in charge of all their locks -- not to mention cabinet locks, padlocks, automatic door-openers and more.

Jersvig and his staff use two digital machines and one old-fashioned one to create keys for those thousands of locks each year.

"If it has a lock on it, it is my responsibility," Jersvig said while sitting in his campus shop last month.

NMSU functions much like a small city with physicians, plumbers, accountants, firefighters, cooks and locksmiths, among others. More than two-thirds of the 4,065 NMSU employees are not administrators or faculty.

The university's four locksmiths earn between $27,000 and $38,000 per year. A student employee also works at the shop, off Locust Street.

The staff fill orders from employees across campus, replacing lost keys, fixing broken locks or granting access to new rooms.

Each lock and key on campus has a number, so staff can more easily make copies and know where lost and found keys belong.

To fill an order, the locksmithing staff check computerized request forums, look up the key design that fits that lock, then send an order to the digital machines. Staff select the appropriate key style depending on what lock they need to match -- door lock, cabinet lock, padlock -- then put the blank key into the machine to be shaped.

Keys for high-security locks are made by hand. Those keys have additional groves to make forgeries more difficult.

"It's an art; keymaking is an art," said facilities maintenance Director Al Flores Jr., Jersvig's supervisor. "We take keys for granted a lot of times. A key works, and when it doesn't work, we take care of it."

New to the art of locksmithing are electronic locks.

Eight to 10 of NMSU's 88 buildings have electronic locks rather than the traditional lock and key, Jersvig said. More e-locks, especially for buildings' exterior doors, are on the way.

"We're really just, I'm going to use the word 'babystepping' on it," Jersvig said.

As NMSU is remodeling buildings, officials are keeping accessibility and electronic locks in mind, Flores said.

"It's not a small project," he said. "It's quite a feat."

Late summer is the locksmiths' busiest time of year, spent re-keying dorm rooms and offices.

"Students lose keys a lot or damage them, so we do a lot of re-keys on the dorm rooms," Jersvig said.

Each dorm room has three keys: one for each resident and a spare.

The rest of the year is spent filling orders and maintaining locks with graphite, Jersvig said. The team is on call 24/7 in case of emergencies.

Jersvig started in the NMSU locksmith shop 14 years ago after retiring from the Army as a sergeant first class and earning a maintenance degree from NMSU.

"When I started here, I didn't know anything about locksmithing," he said.

Now he's the expert, and dealing with people is his favorite part of the job.

"I like people a lot," he said while filing an order for a new key.

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