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Showcasing hidden gems on campus.

Revealing Lock and Key Services’ inner operations and latest updates

Rings of keys hanging from numbered hooks
Photos by Lorianne Willett and Marsha Miller

Deep within the corridors of UT’s Chemical and Petroleum Engineering Building (CPE), a piece of University history rests hidden inside a nondescript student research laboratory. Tightly wrapped in plastic, the 85-year-old key-cutting machine sits on the building’s fourth floor. In December, the University’s Lock and Key Services moved from its longtime location in the Service Building (SER) to a trailer outside CPE.

“I was surprised to hear that it was still in use when I got here in 2017. That was one of the original key machines used by the University,” says Michael Costa, the manager of building logistics and keys.

By October, the elderly piece of equipment will finally retire to its forever home: a renovated building in the shadow of CPE on Speedway. Costa plans to display the machine in the lobby of the new Lock and Key Services building along with an original sketch of SER discovered by a previous manager. SER, which opened in 1951, will be demolished to make way for the Engineering Discovery Building slated for completion in 2026.

“The Service Building was a maze,” explains Costa. “Over the years, it became a collection of different shops tucked away here and there. It really outlived its use.”

In December, Costa oversaw Lock and Key Services’ exodus from SER to its interim location. It was an arduous task centered on moving 15 large file cabinets housing the keys that unlock one of 500,000 doors around the main campus and the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. With the help of Campus Construction, each 1-ton stack made its way across campus to a holding point on the ground floor of CPE. While Costa also manages UT’s Event Support and Moving Services, as well as Solid Waste and Recycling, he found himself dedicating a lot of his time to supervising the relocation process.

“Lock and Key Services gets most of my attention right now. They’re my spoiled child!” he says laughing after proudly producing a photo of a forklift hauling one of the stacks.

Costa’s 15-person department is tiny but mighty, consisting of work control specialists who manage key distribution and locksmiths who tend to the keys and locks. Over 20,000 openers are issued annually to students, staff and faculty, but it takes a year to record and update each device’s location. 

“These reports aren’t teeny-tiny,” says Teresita Gonzalez, a work control specialist tasked with auditing key distribution. “To get to every single college, we have to work from January until December.”

michael costa teresita gonzalez
Michael Costa and Teresita Gonzalez work with Lock and Key Services.

The team of four locksmiths stays just as busy. Along with repairing locks and cutting keys, they share their expertise with other maintenance departments around the Forty Acres when it comes to addressing faulty doors and cabinets. Their temporary workspace inside CPE gleams with bins of the gold and silver cylinder-shaped locks that are embedded in every University door.

“All of us bring something different to the table, and that diversity of knowledge is really crucial,” says locksmith Will Velez. “We take care of everything that’s physical. If a key breaks off inside a lock, we’ll be there to fish it out.”

A former locksmith himself, Costa wants to preserve the department’s extensive archive of key issue and return slips, which dates to the 1920s. Some of these slips display the signatures of individuals who made their claim to fame through UT, including Red McCombs and Anna Hiss.

“In the future, we’re hoping to capture all the stuff that we have on paper in a digital format so that we can archive it,” says Costa, who headed up Lock and Key Services’ transition to using paperless electronic issue and return forms during the relocation. “We just started using DocuSign. So we didn’t only move, we changed all of our processes … except for the locksmiths, of course.”

Once the new building is complete, the paper slips will be stored inside a Lektriever, a 9-foot-tall, motorized, revolving file cabinet manufactured exclusively in Munich. For now, the slips, safe in yellow envelopes, sit atop counters in a student research lab in CPE while the Lektriever waits in pieces at the Pickle Research Campus.

Costa looks forward to the final steps of the move when the external walls of the Speedway building will be rebuilt after all 22 tons of key-centric equipment are placed inside. While the relocation process didn’t hinder operations, the veteran locksmith eagerly anticipates the day when Lock and Key Services can once again provide customer service from a brick-and-mortar building rather than a small trailer.

“When you come to UT, whether you’re faculty, staff or a student, you’re getting keys to places that are important to you,” Costa says. “We know that when you return those keys, it’s typically the year that you’re graduating, moving on to another job, or retiring. We want to be there at the beginning and end of your time here. We know how significant that is, and we take a lot of pride in that.”