Cleaning up in New Orleans is serious business. Mardi Gras brings the city its biggest economic boost of the year and its success is traditionally measured by the weight of the garbage generated. But while the partying may be fun for the public, it creates unique challenges for building service contractors.

Combine the festivities with the climate, city design and water locations, and you’ve got anything but easy in the Big Easy. However, local BSCs take it in stride to ensure the city is clean for its residents and visitors, including attendees to the 2004 International Sanitary Supply Association/Interclean Convention and Trade Show in November.

City challenges
The swampy, humid climate of the area can be stifling and, despite climate control, it can affect cleaning processes. According to Donald Kattengell, vice president and general manager of National Building Services and Maintenance Inc., the humidity makes a huge difference in floor finishing in particular.

For instance, manufacturers list dry times for floor-care products under “ideal drying conditions.” General consensus is that the ideal humidity for finishing floors is between 45 and 60 percent, so New Orleans’ average humidity of 76 percent certainly is anything but ideal. Humidity can cause the same problems with carpet and upholstery cleaning.

“If the instructions say it takes 20 to 30 minutes to dry, you can bet it will take at least an hour more in New Orleans,” Kattengell says.

The result is that his crews need around three times as much time for every coat, so their cleaning routines are planned accordingly.

The Old World-style city is far more densely populated and compact than most U.S. cities, making it easier to get around the city without a car. The streets and buildings are woven tightly together, creating some areas near the river that are completely car-free. While that can be more convenient for individuals living and working in the downtown areas, it can lead to some staffing issues for building service contractors.

When you start working in more rural areas it gets harder to find workers with cars, says Kattengell.

Because of the city’s proximity to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans is easy prey for hurricanes and storms that swell the river. Natural and artificial levees protect the city from external flooding, but put most of the city below sea level, creating a “bowl” or “saucer” effect.

While the levees provide protection from one kind of water damage, they cause another. During the rainy season the levees trap water in the city and, despite a system of pumps, many areas of the city are prone to flooding.

For Al Hilton, director of facility services for Empire Services, the flooding isn’t a minus, it’s a plus — just one more service he can perform for his customers, another way to gain their trust and their appreciation.

Empire has state-of-the-art dehumidifiers and water-extraction equipment to fill this need. In addition, they have specially trained, qualified technicians available 24 hours a day.

“If there’s say a three-inch rain and there’s flooding in a customer’s building, then you aren’t providing janitorial services anymore; you’re now a company who provides the service to get the water out of the buildings and clean it all up,” Hilton says. “All of these different services add to the bottom line. In our industry you have to be a bit diversified to survive.”

Party problems
Empire Services provides the usual cleaning services, plus landscaping, light bulb and ballast replacement, and street sweeping — a specialty that landed them a contract with the Downtown Development District. While they certainly get used year-round, Empire’s 14 street-sweeping machines get a major workout during Mardi Gras. However, during the festival, the sweepers face an additional hazard.

According to Hilton, the famous colored beads distributed by the millions during Mardi Gras cause problems for street sweepers. The beads get caught in the brushes of the maintenance vehicles and have to be cleared out manually before continuing down the street.

Last year, when Hilton bent to clear one of their maintenance trucks his mobile phone fell out of its holder. With the noise of the sweeper, Hilton didn’t notice right away so when the driver rolled the truck forward, then back to pick up the cleared beads it picked up a stray, bringing a favorite old excuse into the 21st century.

“The truck ate my cell phone,” Hilton says, laughing.

While Mardi Gras brings in a lot of money for the city and provides some extra jobs for building service contractors it also creates huge hassles for those trying to continue with business as usual. Over the two-week period each spring, the downtown area, particularly the famous French Quarter, becomes largely inaccessible, especially in the evenings when the festive parades roll through.

“Getting to job locations can be difficult during Mardi Gras,” says Kattengell. He explains that some areas are pedestrian-only during the celebrations and the rest are hard to reach because of streets blocked for the parades. In addition, many customers located along parade routes will reopen their offices after regular business hours to host Mardi Gras parties for their customers and employees.

So, while the public parties, building service contractors continue on with their work. And though there may be a lot of hurdles to cleaning in the Big Easy, to BSCs, it’s just business as usual.

Caryn M. Gracey is a freelance writer and marketing consultant based in Denver.