In Schools, Cleaning For Health Prioritizes Children's Wellness
From day care centers to universities, and public schools to private schools, educational facilities are in a cleaning class of their own. The outsourcing of janitorial and other service work is a trend that has been on the rise, and was particularly accelerated by the recession, which has forced many schools, especially K-12 facilities, to tighten spending.
As many states face fiscal crises that are affecting school funding, and as many parents are finding it harder to send their children to private schools, school administrators are looking for solutions. Building service contractors have answered the call, becoming experts in their own right on green cleaning and cleaning for health in schools.
Kids are top priority
PMM Companies, Rockville, Md., earned the GS-42 Green Seal Environmental Leadership Standard for Cleaning Services certification, partially with the intention of becoming the expert partners educational facilities need to protect the health of their occupants — something that is of utmost importance in society.
“Any time you’re dealing with kids, health, education, the environment — they’re just high priorities,” says Mitch Lustig, executive vice president. “And that’s any kid, whether they’re in the most prestigious of schools or some of the inner city schools. Children’s health and environments are paramount to everybody.”
Outsourcing allows schools to cut back on the budget without sacrificing quality or the well-being of students.
“The last thing schools want to do is cut their programs, so facilities is a big bucket where they can look to be more efficient,” Lustig says.
Schools with progressive green agendas seek out BSCs with certifications such as GS-42, a standard which outlines requirements in planning, products, supplies, equipment, cleaning procedures, communications and training.
“Some schools are very knowledgeable and have done a lot of homework and research and know exactly the kind of company they want to deal with,” Lustig says.
The educational facilities serviced by PMM include a number of independent private schools, public charter schools and universities in Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“It’s particularly important in independent schools, where many of the schools have green committees,” Lustig says. “It’s very important to them, the recycling aspect, sustainability and those things, and having students participate, so being experts on that is a lot of added value for them.”
Unlike commercial clients, public schools are regulated by states, and in 2007, the green cleaning in schools legislative movement took off; in the years since, seven states have passed green cleaning in schools mandates, including Maryland, Illinois, Iowa and New York, and others have issued recommendations. Though it has been a few years since the green cleaning in schools legislative movement seemed to peak, BSCs should be paying close attention to government mandates that affect what products they use to clean.
Jim Sutton, president of Better Business Cleaning in Erie, Colo., knows the importance of using the right chemicals around a vulnerable population — his company services day care centers, where the youngest of children not only make the biggest of messes, but also may be literally eating off the floor.
“It can be pretty intense,” Sutton says. “You’re looking for chemicals that will disinfect and clean well without leaving a residue and are going to be healthy for the kids.”
Another aspect of protecting a vulnerable child population is screening who will come into contact with them. BSCs who work with K-12 schools need to be extremely particular in their hiring practices.
“We’re pretty careful about screening in general, but our standards for educational facilities are very high,” Sutton says.
A common concern in K-12 schools that are switching to outsourced cleaning is regarding the new janitorial staff; parents read news articles about janitors with criminal tendencies and want to know their children are going to be safe.
It’s not uncommon for BSCs to provide the opportunity for former in-house employees to reapply with the vendor, Lustig says, so sometimes staff is retained.
The janitors working in schools for PMM undergo thorough background checks, including sex offender lists in all 50 states and fingerprinting.
The amount of training needed for school janitors is a bit more intensive than for a typical office-cleaning position, Lustig says.
“The first time they see an art project go awry, they want to run out of the school if they’re not trained properly,” he says. “Schools get trashed, and the expectation is, the school is going to be ready at a very high level the next day, so if you’re not extremely detail-oriented as a company, it’s probably not a good place for you.”
Know your customers
The work itself in educational facilities is quite different from most other accounts. Carpet work, for instance, might have similar specs to other types of accounts, but the actual work is going to be more labor-intensive.
“For example, vacuuming — the spec would be different in that you perform a full vacuum every night,” Sutton says. “But the workloading of a ‘full vacuum’ is different than doing an office space, because you’re vacuuming up food crumbs and other items, like macaroni ground into the floor.”
Because the nature of the work is so tied to the health of occupants, BSCs become much more of a partner to schools. Generally, they are very involved in the cleaning procedures compared to most other commercial clients.
In the privately-owned day care center serviced by Better Business Cleaning, the owner is very particular about the chemicals used on carpets.
“That’s one of the few places and one of the few people we are involved with who has an elevated concern for products used on the floor,” Sutton says.
The company also services a large private school, with which it partners on an innovative waste management program that involves recycling and composting of organic waste.
Universities are a completely different type of situation from most other types of accounts, Lustig says. They are literally communities unto themselves, and need 24/7 attention.
“It becomes a much more complicated piece of work with a lot of moving parts,” he says. “People live there, they’re open year-round, you have big sporting events and parents weekends and it’s a myriad of different events and activities going on all the time.”
It takes a different kind of company commitment to handle educational accounts well, Lustig says.
“You need better management and you have to be willing to invest in the infrastructure and quality programs and training,” he says.