As the 2021-22 school year is underway, we wanted to highlight some of the innovative programs being undertaken by inventive facilities teams in K-12 school buildings and universities across the country. After almost two years of pandemic-related disruptions that have caused school facilities teams to adapt to shifts in building use and infection prevention strategies, we’re inspired to see teams take on the 2021-22 school year with forward-thinking approaches to green and healthy cleaning.
Salt Lake City School District (SLSD)
To help offset labor shortages, SLSD in Utah has recruited part-time workers to pick up overtime custodial shifts. SLSD took an innovative approach to the labor shortage, using American Rescue Plan funds to provide competitive overtime pay for maintenance workers that pick up night-time cleaning shifts throughout the district. These groundskeepers and maintenance workers vacuum and collect waste from trash bins in the evenings, freeing up the custodians to concentrate on sanitizing efforts and tasks that require more training.
“Our groundsmen work hard during the day in the Utah heat mowing lawns, edging and tree trimming, and then go and vacuum at one of the elementary schools for three hours in the evening. For them, it is a relief to have air conditioning!” Merv Brewer, former Assistant Custodial Supervisor, SLSD.
University of Georgia (UGA)
UGA’s Facilities and Maintenance team was an integral part of Project Red, a program aimed at providing free, biodegradable menstrual products to the students, staff and faculty across the campus. After surveys showed that a majority of students at UGA reported a lack of access to menstrual products, the university launched a pilot program in two of its all-gender bathrooms that provided free menstrual products with the aim of opening Project Red bathrooms across campus this year.
“Period poverty has impacted the lives of billions of people and continues to do so. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for menstrual products or any other basic necessities for students, staff, and faculty,” says Kimberly Thomas, Senior Director of Services, Facilities Management Division, UGA.
The UGA Facilities and Maintenance Department was busy! As part of a collaboration with the UGA Innovation District program, students and facilities team members got together to look at antimicrobial technology used on surfaces and develop marketing strategies for startup vendors.
University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, WA
The Building Services team at UW has worked very hard over the past 18 months while the majority of campus was remote. Thanks to the department’s work, the buildings are cleaner and shinier than ever .
“We want to give the community confidence that they are returning to well-cared for facilities,” says Gene Woodard, Director of Building Services at UW Facilities. “With the pandemic still ongoing, we decided to implement individual recognition and listening sessions in each of our custodial and UW recycling work areas.”
The purpose of these events was to express gratitude, reconnect with custodial teams, and hear from staff about their hopes and concerns. During these in-person sessions, department leaders had the opportunity to recognize the wonderful work staff members have done. The Building Services Department followed all of the University’s in-person event guidelines and made sure staff felt safe during the event. The second part focused on addressing the questions of each group. Like other campuses, some staff members have a sense of uncertainty about this upcoming school year. UW’s listening sessions allowed custodians to ask questions directly to department leaders. A partnering medical physician also attended the meetings to answer questions.
“We received a positive reception from staff on these events and also gained insight about how our staff are feeling before the school year starts,” says Woodard. “Because of these events, we as leaders will be more equipped to support them when our school year begins.”
University of California, Riverside
The facilities department at UC Riverside implemented a new hands-free soap program throughout campus. The program will greatly reduce battery waste and create efficiencies for custodial workers. Each new refill comes with a coin cell battery that’s integrated into the cartridge. The dispensers also have the school’s logo printed on the front.
“With the majority of our campus community being remote for the past 18 months, we took the time to make a substantial push in improving our work methods, specifically in the area of workloading and staffing the cleaning of our buildings to industry standards,” says Aaron Uresti, Assistant Director of Custodial and Housekeeping Services at UC Riverside. “This is a huge part of cleaning for health. Through this effort, we were able to increase cleaning frequencies in a few areas and reallocate a couple of custodians to porter high traffic restrooms throughout the day.”
Elk Grove Unified School District
Elk Grove Unified School District in Southern Sacramento County, California took time over the past year to install a complete color-coded microfiber cloth cleaning system for their custodial department.
Each custodial team member was provided with three different colored microfiber cloths: green, red, and blue. Green cloths are for general purpose cleaning; red for restroom and high risk cleaning; and blue for mirrors and glass surfaces. Approximately 9000 microfiber cloths were added to the school’s custodial closets for cleaning for health processes. Portable compact washing machines were also installed at all school sites to launder the microfiber cloths on a daily basis. Next, the custodial team will supply all teaching staff with microfiber cloths they can use to clean their classrooms during the workday.
While so many schools have faced incredible obstacles over the past year and a half as the pandemic forced buildings to close and custodial teams to work overtime to meet the increased needs of infection prevention, it is inspiring to see schools everywhere looking toward the future with innovative programs that exemplify leadership, innovation, and cleaning for health. We would love to hear what your school facilities team has been up to! Please share your stories and successes with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.