Is Contracting Cleaning Services Right for You?

There have been many positive and negative discussions over the use of contracted janitorial services. This article is based on my personal experiences in the use of these services. A good friend at another school district shared his belief with me that “you must inspect what you expect.” This must be followed whether you perform all of the work with in-house labor or contracted services if you are to be successful.

As the director of facilities for the 5th largest school in Arkansas since 1995, one of my many job duties is to supervise all of the maintenance and custodial services within the district. The same year that I joined the district, we began a major construction and renovation phase that lasted for over ten years. During that time, we constructed several new schools and multiple additions, which doubled our size to over 1,000,000 square feet.

Late in 1995, I was introduced to the concept of contracted cleaning services. In 1996, we opened the first of two newly constructed elementary buildings, and I decided it was a perfect time to try this concept and perform a comparison on the cost and quality of work. It has been 14 years since that first trial, and I have never regretted making that decision.

We currently contract cleaning services for the care of approximately 800,000 square feet of buildings. I have four experienced companies working for us at this time. The transition has taken several years because we did not want to eliminate good district employees. We decided to use contracted services at all of the newly constructed buildings as they opened and whenever additions were constructed and new employees were needed. Through attrition and lateral transfers, we have adjusted the assignments of our district custodial staff until we have reduced the number to less than 20. This system has allowed us to make this transition without offending or wrongfully terminating the employment of any of our experienced staff.

Even though this type of contracting is considered a provided service, we choose to advertise and receive bids for these services. We use a written agreement, which provides us with the authority to provide notice to terminate any contractor who fails to perform the work as requested. Within this agreement, we are able to lock in the cost for these services for a period of three years. We have full control of the day custodians just as if they were our own employees, and the majority of the cleaning is performed at night based on strict specifications that have been written for each building. In these specifications, it is mandated that background checks be performed for all employees of the contractor that might work within our buildings. The contractor is also responsible for all of the federal and state required training and must provide documentation of this to us on a continuing basis.

We require each contractor to provide all labor, equipment and supplies needed to perform the work as written in the specifications. We also required them to provide a list of each chemical or product that they want to use within our building and reserve the right to deny the use of that item if it does not meet our efforts to stay green within our facilities.

Now some may say that this sounds too perfect, and why isn’t everyone doing it? I can truly say that I have had those bad experiences as well and gave a second thought to this whole process.

A successful program really depends on getting the right contractor or contractors on the job and being able to address this process with an open mind. I do not know of any system that does not require some type of supervision and which operates without some problems. Even with contracting, there still must be someone to perform routine follow-up inspections to verify that you are receiving the quality of work that is specified. The time spent for these inspections is very minimal, though, when compared to a system where you are having to supervise an entire staff of custodians, keep track of schedules, time cards, substitutes, equipment, tools, supplies and training on a daily basis. In our case, all it takes is a quick phone call or e-mail to have any concerns addressed and corrected.

Our building administrators have developed good relationships with the service managers and day custodians and appreciate the quality of work that is being provided. When questioned at the end of each school year on whether they wanted to eliminate the use of contracted custodial services, the answer has always been no.

Finally, you must ask yourself this question, “Are you satisfied with the performance of your staff and the quality of the cleaning and appearance of your facilities?” If you’re not, then you may want to see if contracting custodial services might work for you.

My advice is to be sure to compare the two equally. Remember that you can’t compare apples to apples because you have already decided that your present system is inadequate. To correct the problem, you most likely will have to spend a little more, but this is not always the case when outsourcing. By contracting these services, you can choose to eliminate all direct cost to your district for labor, cleaning equipment, cleaning supplies, direct supervision, indirect administration cost (book keeping, payroll, human resources, worker’s comp, health insurance and substitute pay). You can save even more by never having to pay for cleaning equipment repair, servicing, loss and future replacement.

In my experience, we have reduced the total cost for the cleaning of our junior high and high school buildings while greatly improving the overall appearance greatly. In our seven elementary buildings (Pre-K through 6th grade), our cost for these services have been reduced even though the cleaning and disinfecting specifications are more defined, which in turn are more labor intensive. The end result is a better image to our parents, a healthier and cleaner environment for our students and staff and fewer headaches for you.