There has never been a more challenging time to work in the facilities world. The pandemic has put the spotlight on building maintenance like never before. As a result, cleaning for optics has shifted to cleaning for health. The question is, have you been able to make the switch? 

As a facilities director that started at a school district in the middle of the pandemic, I was a bit lost on how to handle this “new world.” The school’s normal cleaning and building maintenance procedures that had been in place for roughly two decades were no longer adequate when tackling the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

New virus data and cleaning recommendations were coming out weekly, resulting in an influx of questions from community members that now had a newfound interest in facilities management. People were calling asking about what level filter we were using in our HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, how often are were changing them, what product we were using to disinfect surfaces, the list goes on. What was once an overlooked department now sat in the spotlight. 

Finding Help 

Feeling a bit overwhelmed and second guessing some of our procedures, I turned to the internet. I knew that I couldn’t be the only manager feeling this way. That is when I came across the Healthy Green School & Colleges website, which is a partnership between Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC) and Green Seal.  

I was already aware of Green Seal — which is the gold standard for green chemical certifications — so when I saw that, I was intrigued. As I did more research on the Healthy Schools Campaign, I was equally impressed with their background in working with schools. This seemed like a great partnership, so I reached out and got connected.  

The more I learned about the program, the more I wanted to be a part of it. I am now one of 23 school departments and colleges in the country serving as an Early Adopter of this new initiative to create healthier, more sustainable facility management programs to improve school environments for students and staff. Let me tell you what I like about it: 

The pilot standard (which is publicly available) was created by professionals who work in the industry — boots-on-the-ground individuals who hail from schools and universities across the country. It enables schools to identify and implement low- or no-cost measures that make a significant impact on indoor air quality, and subsequently, the health of building occupants. I found this standard particularly useful because in a short period of time, I was able to tell not only where I needed to improve, but also what I needed in place to perform at a high level. 

For my school district, what I found was, we were doing a lot of things right but there was no standard operating procedure written down anywhere. We were running solely on the institutional knowledge of my tenured employees. As I reviewed the various categories in the pilot standard, the notion of having a standard operating procedure kept coming up, and I realized I needed to get one in place. 

Being a part of the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges program has the additional benefit of introducing you to a network of professionals across the county. This gave me the opportunity to reach out and connect with other facilities directors who work in schools and understand that environment. Connecting with them and hearing about how they stacked up against the pilot standard gave me some peace of mind that I was not alone in some areas of struggle. I also used the opportunity to get feedback on what has and hasn’t worked at their schools. 

The Takeaway 

The takeaway from discussions with other Early Adopters of this program was that they all liked the format and ease of using the pilot standard as a self-assessment tool. Doing this allows any manager to objectively measure their current facilities program.  

It can be used as a scoring system when evaluating the school against the standard. This points-based scoring system encourages schools to keep improving at their own pace. Schools that reach the top level of achievement can apply for third-party certification, earning public recognition for their verified expertise in providing healthy school environments. 

I have been a part of the group since March, and since that time I have been slowly working on creating standard operating procedures for everything. While that may sound tedious, it has actually been great. 

Not only will it streamline procedures, but I have also been able to engage my staff with helping in the process. They see the benefit in having standard operating procedures. It has also aided in training — reminding my older staff on how to tighten up processes, serving as a resource for my new staff and offering a place to go if any of them forget any of their training. It has also helped arm the department against anyone questioning what is being done behind the scenes. 

All in all, being part of the Healthy Green Schools & Colleges pilot program has been one of the best decisions I have made as a facilities director. The Healthy Green Schools & Colleges pilot is shifting to a full program launch soon, and I would encourage anyone in the field to at least look at the standard and score their facility. There’s bound to be an area where they can improve.   

David Bagdasarian is the Director of Facilities at Cape Elizabeth School Department in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and an Early Adopter of Healthy Green Schools & Colleges.