Top Cleaning Challenges in Educational Facilities
- Process Changes and Communication Updates Stemming From the Pandemic
Like many other facility types, the pandemic has necessarily transformed how schools are cleaned and maintained. Facility cleaning executives have had to juggle local, state and federal cleaning recommendations; demands from parents, students, faculty and staff; as well as staffing and budget cuts. As the pandemic threats decrease, managers are looking back at how cleaning was handled over the last two years, what processes they’d like to see disappear forever and best practices they hope will continue.
What are the biggest challenges departments are currently facing?
Krause: For most, I feel like it’s staffing levels — there’s a shortage of employees; vacancies aren’t being filled.
Uresti: Recruiting and staffing shortages are the biggest challenges. We have been working feverishly over the past eight months to fill all our open positions, which accounts for about 15 percent of our workforce. We have cut the number of vacancies in half over the past six months and continue to recruit qualified individuals.
Staff morale is another challenge. Custodial staff have been working on the frontlines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for the past two years now, and we are doing everything that we can to show our appreciation by recognizing our staff for their efforts.
Woodard: The pandemic raised public awareness of the importance of cleaning. It also highlighted the fact that the cleaning workers cannot be everywhere and clean and disinfect an entire facility as frequently as people might like. It takes a village to keep a campus or a school clean. Teachers, professors, researchers, administrators, etc. who may not have thought that cleaning and disinfecting was part of their responsibilities before the pandemic have now learned that they need to participate in keeping their facilities clean and not totally depend on the cleaning worker.
This process change needs to continue and it does not take as much time away from the core duties of others in the community. Schools and universities should make it a priority that every staff person shares the responsibility of maintaining the cleanliness of all shared spaces. Cleaning supplies and instructions should be readily available and the expectation that everyone participates should be embedded in the culture. I hope this continues.
Hayes: Inflation-adjusted state appropriations for higher education declined in most states. With declining revenue from both states and students, and after a year of increased costs due to the pandemic, as well as the increased reliance on digital learning, state support for higher education is crucial for the continued success of our public institutions.
How will these challenges impact departments as they transition into the summer months and the next school year?
Woodard: The overuse of pesticides (disinfectants) is unnecessary in preventing the transmission of the virus, but their pervasive application was established during the pandemic. Early on, we did not fully understand how the virus was transmitted — it was assumed that the virus spread through touched surfaces. As a result, cleaning workers doubled or tripled the amount of time that was spent disinfecting common touch surfaces during the pandemic. This is not really needed in most public and learning spaces, especially since we learned that the virus is actually better transmitted via airborne routes versus from potentially contaminated surfaces. In fact, it is more important for the public to practice good handwashing and cough/sneeze etiquette. I am concerned with the health of the cleaning worker who is being asked to use pesticides with greater frequency.
Hayes: Decreased funding plays a huge role in the overall success or failure of departments and the university at-large. For example, lack of staffing and funding affects the ability to provide adequate attention to each department. From being able to provide up-to-date technology and infrastructure to the appearance of the grounds and cleanliness of the buildings, adequate funding plays a vital role in the success of each. That, in turn, can also affect the enrollment of current and new students at the university.
Krause: Without the necessary staff, cleaning standards decrease — dramatically in some cases. For schools, this means not being able to provide the highest levels of cleanliness for current students, summer school attendees, summer conference guests and incoming Fall students. It means not being able to complete tasks that need attention yearly or during break periods, such as floor work or painting.
How might staffing and budget challenges impact goals for healthy and more environmentally friendly initiatives moving forward?
Uresti: Not having a fully staffed operation creates challenges in the ability to deliver the routine and periodic services that you are promising to your customers and building occupants.
Kerzie: The age-old question: “How do you do more with less?” Unfortunately, even with our current staffing and budget challenges, we will not forgo any tasks associated with maintaining a healthy environment for our faculty, staff and students. With the onset of COVID-19, we had to divert some of our attention to cleaning and disinfection of all high-touch surfaces and had to give up some frequencies of other tasks that focused more on the appearance or aesthetics of the facilities. With any additional budget challenges, we will continue to examine cleaning priorities and frequencies, while looking for other ways to gain efficiencies through better management, equipment and supply inventory.
Krause: Without budgetary support, transitioning to more sustainable practices may not be possible. It isn’t that sustainable practices or products cost more, rather, it’s because change generally has some cost to it and people often don’t want to change what they feel isn’t broken. In my experience, implementing and using sustainable products, practices and/or equipment helps to increase staff efficiencies. However, we still need staff to maintain standards, improve cleanliness and provide the many services that they do.
Process Changes and Communication Updates Stemming From the Pandemic