Smart Cleaning

It is safe to say that today’s cleaning environment has changed a great deal over the years requiring adjustments to keep pace with new innovative technology. After experiencing 33 years of equipment and product evolution in the school industry, it is exciting to be in the front row of change in cleaning procedures. Smart cleaning, by its very nature, incorporates the new user-friendly equipment with environmentally safe products and employee-based work procedures to create a cleaner, safer environment in which children can learn.

Similar to every school district in the United States, the custodial department of Fraser (Mich.) Public Schools, has been challenged to do more with less. Increasing productivity with decreasing wages and benefits is not an easy task. This reality forces districts to search under every proverbial rock to find ways to undertake these challenges with vanishing resources.

Using the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) profile for greening of existing buildings as a guide, Fraser has examined three areas involved with smart cleaning: staffing, products and equipment.

One of the first things that Fraser did, with the cooperation of the cleaning staff bargaining unit, was to go through and evaluate all the cleaning areas. Over the years, the schools had developed areas that morphed from very small cleaning areas to some very large cleaning areas without any rhyme or reason. Some people were cleaning 12,000 square feet and others were cleaning 36,000.

The district began the change process by establishing a planning team representing management and staff. This strategy was used purposely to create a professional cleaning community allowing every staff member to have a say through their representatives on the team. Thus, a collaborative culture was created that continues to give all a sense that ideas can surface from anywhere in the ranks. Involving custodians provided valued input into the new cleaning culture, especially during the creative stages of the smart cleaning program.

The team literally went through and created more equitable cleaning areas across all sites. The team also defined required cleaning on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, thus establishing a consistent cleaning platform for all employees.

As the district added space to its footprint, the team was able to cope without adding personnel. While cleaning standards were adjusted to accommodate growth, the team’s recommendations focused on eliminating procedures of least value such as only doing desktops when needed as opposed to daily. These adjustments were consistent across all sites.

This was a perfect time to incorporate single-task cleaning as opposed to zone cleaning, a process that allowed the staff to move more quickly and efficiently through their areas of responsibility.

With the changes in staffing, there was a need to find the most productive materials for cleaning. The delivery and distribution of the products became a key component of our smart cleaning program. Another management-staff committee was formed to develop a bid specification that incorporated all the necessary components needed to be effective. This included chemical and distribution centers along with microfiber and different types of applicators. The team reviewed all possible product lines to ensure that all schools received what was needed to be effective.

Several trips were made to local vendors to examine product and equipment as well as their ability to train staff in the use of these upgrades. The team also reviewed the capacity of each vendor to repair the equipment and provide loaners when maintenance took extended periods. Other pivotal items for vendor selection were the availability of green-certified products as well as pricing and effectiveness of their product lines.

The team developed bid specifications that incorporated all the information it had gathered. This included metered green paper towel dispensers, green trash liners, entry matting and microfiber. It required that all chemicals, where possible, were Green Seal Certified or its equivalent. An online ordering system for just-in-time delivery eliminated the former paper system. The necessity to have more than one month’s worth of supplies on hand was no longer needed. Vendors were responsible to make sure they had enough supplies to handle our needs.

The same professional cleaning committee used for the staffing and chemical evaluation also looked at equipment that would work in a green, ergonomic and time-saving manner. This ranged from ergonomic vacuums to efficient devices for cleaning restrooms. All were critical to the process of going smart with our cleaning program. The reduction in staffing and the increase in square footage required current technology to maximize cleaning productivity.

New labor-saving equipment made a major difference in the smart cleaning program. The team looked at several pieces of equipment that reduced labor as well as chemicals. An example of this was a floor machine that required no soaps or detergents to remove dirt and finish from the floor. Such machines apply water without soap, then scrub off the dirt and finish while picking up the soiled water. This saves a tremendous amount of time and manpower to prep a floor for waxing. The result is one man doing the work of three, while using less chemicals to complete the work. Such savings immediately stretch ailing budgets.

Another labor-saving device is a simple microfiber waxing system. This is an ergonomically designed handle with a microfiber pad on the bottom. This waxing system requires less effort on the part of the employee because the equipment is much lighter. It allows for more uniform coverage of the floor with fewer coats of wax. The system also saves wax by not having to soak a wax mop prior to use.

These are only a few of the innovations implemented in Fraser Public Schools. By using the new equipment that is in the marketplace, all districts can realistically save money in product and personnel.

Make It a Unified Effort

The saying that a long journey starts with a single step is appropriate here. This is not a process that starts on Monday and is finished on Friday. It takes time and cooperation with the entire community. Taking the first step is important and should be discussed with your management team as well as key operational staff. Including the workers in the process creates an atmosphere of unity that will go a long way toward making the change a success.

With the help of our smart cleaning program, several of Fraser schools were given the designation of Green by the Michigan Green Schools Program. Everyone wants to contribute to a greener environment given the opportunity. Becoming a smart cleaning learning community is a great way to accomplish this goal.

John M. Thompson, CFD, MCFM, has been in public education for over 33 years. He holds a Master’s in Facilities Management from Michigan State University. John also is involved on the state level with Michigan School Business Officials and has done many seminars for MSBO, and Oakland University on facilities related subjects.