school students walking down the hall of a university or college

Staffing, project coordination, working around residents and scheduling, all the while focusing on creating a clean and healthy environment. Add in tight budgets and time restraints and you have identified challenges of almost every facility cleaning manager in the country.

These challenges are amplified for those preparing schools for a fresh round of students this fall. Some might think that summer is a break, but that’s a myth for school custodial services. For most, this is their busiest time of year.

The summer months between school years keep cleaning departments on their toes. In this article, we address some of the biggest challenges that cleaning managers face before opening the doors to a new set of students.


Larry Ames
Director of Custodial Services
Virginia Beach City Public Schools
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Christopher Bartolone
Assistant Director for Facilities Services
Marquette University
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Virgie Fewell
Grigg Zone Supervisor of Building Environmental Services and Recycling
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Charlotte, North Carolina

Jodi Krause
Assistant Director Housekeeping
Residence Hall Facilities — University Housing
University of Wisconsin — Madison
Madison, Wisconsin

Ricky Martinez
Assistant Custodial Supervisor
Salt Lake City School District
Salt Lake City, Utah

Mycka Murphy
Custodial and IPM Coordinator
Certified Custodial Technician Trainer
Granite School District
West Valley City, Utah

Chuck VanMaldeghem
Building Services Supervisor
Facility Management Services
Rochester Institute of Technology
Rochester, New York

What are some of the biggest challenges to summer projects and starting a new school year?

Ames — The biggest challenge is time management and trying to coordinate the cleaning of schools around school programs such as after-care, summer school, sport camps and major summer facilities work projects.

Bartolone — We just completed a new dorm and a couple of academic buildings. New buildings create a challenge to make sure they are staffed properly and that all of the kinks are worked through before the students return to campus. In addition to that, the campus is rarely empty and much of the cleaning staff takes vacation at this time.

Fewell — The biggest challenge for me in starting off the new school year is making sure that the academic buildings in my zone are clean, sanitized and ready for the first day of class by the appropriate date and time. Managing customer demands is also a challenge. Everyone needs or wants their office or labs cleaned at the same time. We get them done, but we have to prioritize based on the need.

Krause — Staffing during move-in is never easy. Overtime is required to move residents into the halls, so you have to make sure full-time staff are properly scheduled to address any conflicts or concerns. We’re also working on budget approvals during this time, which includes addressing staffing concerns.
We're also tasked with academic year student staffing. We employ student staff to work nights and weekends, but our student hire numbers are decreasing yearly by large percentages.
Another challenge is traffic control. University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison Housing “buys” city streets and campus parking lots or stalls during the move in process in order to help with traffic congestion, flow and being able to provide parking.

Martinez — Our summers have been shortened from three months to two and a half months and we have to schedule our cleaning around summer programs such as summer school, community education, athletics, summer lunch and breakfast. We also have to deal with scheduled maintenance projects that can only be done in the summer, such as new carpet or hard surface flooring installation, re-modeling and new construction. This puts pressure on our custodial staff to complete our routine summer cleaning. Staffing for this work is challenging because we are unable to retain or hire part-time employees.

Murphy — Our biggest challenge is making sure the school is finished, especially the ones that have had construction projects. The second challenge is budgets — they aren’t as large as they should be, and it is really starting to become a struggle to find people based of the wage we can hire them at to stay within our budgets.

VanMaldeghem — As with every institution, first impressions can make or break the decision to attend a particular university. Making sure that first impression is highly favorable is of utmost importance but creates many challenges. These include: assuring all spaces are cleaned and well maintained; having the grounds and landscaping well groomed and inviting; building exteriors well maintained and appealing; parking lots and walkways in a clean and attractive condition; and assuring that staff reflect themselves in an inviting manner. The greatest challenges to accomplishing this mission is time, labor and resources, which I am sure are the same for most institutions, whether Universities, office complexes, or retail facilities.

next page of this article:
Misconceptions Of Cleaning Schools Over Summer Break