This article first appeared in Facility Cleaning Decisions and is republished with permission from Trade Press Media Group.
School facility management professionals are vital stewards of school environments, leading on health, safety, and sustainability through a stream of daily decisions with big impacts. While experts at doing a lot with a little, budget realities mean facility professionals often lack proper funding and resources for the essential work of caring for students and staff.
Healthy Green Schools & Colleges designed a program to help facility leaders identify low-cost measures that can make a significant difference in indoor air quality and overall sustainability in the spaces they care for. The first step, freely available to all, is an online self-assessment tool.
This tool allows school facility directors to see how many points they score toward the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges standard. They can also use the tool to gauge how their program currently performs in a variety of areas including procurement, facility operations and building systems maintenance.
The emphasis on low- or no-cost solutions means that facility leaders can use their self-assessment results to make improvements without major capital expenditures.
To find out what can be learned in terms of cleaning program strengths and weaknesses, organizers tapped into some of the first Healthy Green Schools & Colleges program participating school officials for comment. Here’s what Kimberly Thomas, senior director of services and facilities management at Athens-based University of Georgia; Christopher Raines, director of administrative services at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, California; Aaron Uresti, assistant director of custodial and housekeeping services in facilities services at Riverside-based University of California, Riverside; Lazell E. Ofield, II, CESE and director of custodial services and warehouse at Kansas City Public Schools, Missouri; and John Hamm, director of custodial services at Ashland, Virginia-based Hanover County Public Schools had to say:
Sara Porter (organizer): How long did it take you to complete the assessment and who else from your school did you need to engage?
Thomas: The University of Georgia Facilities Management Division (FMD) utilized several members of our teams across various departments: Building Services, Utility and Energy Services, Operations and Maintenance, Grounds, and our Safety Department. We also worked with external source experts from our local distributor vendors, and the local city government (Water Department). All told, we spent approximately five weeks compiling information and answering the assessment questions.
Raines: It took me between 45 minutes and one hour to complete the assessment. I didn’t spend too much time worrying about all the details for this first step.
Uresti: It took about 45 minutes to complete most of the assessment.
Ofield: The initial assessment took me a little over an hour to review and respond. During the review process, I realized I needed to involve other departments within the school district to complete an accurate assessment. Those departments included Procurement, Human Resources, and Maintenance. Once I reached out to those teams, it took a full week to educate them on the standard, explain why this standard and self-assessment are valuable to our organization, and provide answers to the Self-Assessment Questionnaire.
Hamm: No one helped me complete the assessment from my organization, so it took me about an hour to complete.
Porter: Were you surprised by your score? If so, what was unexpected?
Thomas: We were surprised by our initial score from working in our small team. We quickly learned that we couldn’t answer all the questions alone and needed to widen our team to answer the assessment questions. This ended up being a great opportunity to better communicate why this assessment was valuable to our department, provided added resources to improve our customer delivery, and allowed our partners in other departments (both on campus and within the community) to understand how we need each other to provide healthy school environments for our stakeholders.
Raines: We were not surprised by the results, though we wished for a higher score. Regardless, we are happy to have taken the assessment and to have a clear road map detailing what we need to work on.
Uresti: There were no surprises, but I was happy to see that a lot of the best practices we have already put in place within our unit are part of the standard, including purchasing green consumable goods and implementing location-specific cleaning requirements.
Ofield: Yes, I was surprised by my initial score. I thought our organization would have scored much higher in Sections 2: Procurement, 4: Building Systems Maintenance and Repairs, and 5: Monitoring and Evaluation.
Hamm: I was satisfied with the score.
Porter: What are three areas of opportunity the self-assessment highlighted for you?
Thomas: Three areas of opportunity that were highlighted to me include indoor air quality inspections/reporting, ensuring that all our training documents were updated to meet the diverse first languages of our employees and stakeholders, and working to better communicate the work that our staff does to our customers.
Raines: The primary area of opportunity the self-assessment highlighted was providing preferred-language safety manuals to our staff. Luckily, this will be easy for our department to fix.
Uresti: The assessment showed us the value of partnering with the other units in our department, such as maintenance and landscaping, and the need to develop a more structured training program for custodial staff that have been employed with us for more than one year.
Ofield: The three areas of focus for me after completing and receiving the self-assessment results will be revamping annual training, conducting quarterly customer service surveys, and integrating ATP monitoring. I can directly support these focus areas and addressing them will result in a better quality of service to our students, teachers and families.
Hamm: The areas of opportunity highlighted were sustainability, air quality, and equipment replacement.
Porter: What plans have you started to make to address those areas (if any so far)?
Thomas: Our FMD team has begun the improvements in the areas of opportunity mentioned previously. We also will be upgrading our computerized work order system to better track our building inspections and work completions, ensuring that all training documents are saved in a separate electronic file by language type, and including our training documents into a campus-wide electronic system that is shared throughout several auxiliary campus units (not just for FMD employees only).
Raines: We have started developing safety manuals that detail each facility operation and maintenance task in the preferred languages of our personnel and cleaning staff.
Ofield: We started by creating focus groups/teams to coordinate our onboarding process to include annual training. We also partnered with our Research and Accountability department to generate questions and create a schedule for our Customer Service Surveys. Lastly, we ordered ATP monitoring devices to allow us to perform periodic ATP monitoring throughout our district.
Hamm: We will ask for more funding to purchase new janitorial equipment, especially robotics and training.
While the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges (HGSC) assessment does not guarantee compliance with the HGSC standard, it is the first step in the journey to creating a healthier, safer school environment for students and staff. Take the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges program and get your score at www.healthygreenschools.org.