Summer break is drawing near, and while students are looking forward to their vacation plans, Janitorial departments are mapping out intense cleaning schedules.

Janitorial managers look at school closings as windows of opportunity for deep cleaning — scrubbing, wiping and dusting everything from top to bottom. And, of course, stripping, buffing and finishing floors, extracting and vacuuming carpet, cleaning blinds, furniture, vents, light fixtures, among other tasks.
To add to the challenge of tackling a number of tasks within a small window, educational facilities rarely shut down completely for any length of time. Managers have to schedule cleaning around summer school, summer camps, conventions, community events and other activities.

Plan and identify tasks
To make the most of the break, managers need to plan ahead — the earlier the better. Departments often purchase supplies and equipment only once a year, usually in the fall. Managers should ensure that their departments order enough cleaning chemicals and tools to be well stocked for summer cleaning tasks. Use past summers as benchmarks for what the department will need.
Next, find out as soon as possible what activities and programs are scheduled during break. Sometime between winter and spring break, Robert Bledsoe, supervisor of buildings and grounds at King of Prussia (Pa.) School District meets with school principals to find out what areas of the buildings will be occupied, and when.

“We might plan to have summer school in one wing only, clean another wing, and then switch,” Bledsoe says. He says the meeting also helps him figure out how many workers to schedule in each building, including how many summer employees the department will need to hire.

At Duke University in Durham, N.C., housekeeping services manager Hugh Hargett says regular inspections are key to planning summer cleaning schedules.

“Inspection teams go around starting [in March] to identify projects that need to be done immediately, by graduation or by the end of summer,” Hargett says. Supervisors have building contacts in each building. He encourages supervisors to meet with building contacts anywhere from once a week to once a month to inform them of projects coming up and also to find out if customers have requests or complaints.

“The key is good planning and good communication,” Hargett says.

Tough spots
Once plans are in place and the students head out, custodians must hit the ground running. Routines are especially challenging for custodians who have the job of cleaning university residence halls. The move-out process leaves behind excessive trash, including sofas and carpet. Dumpsters have to be emptied and stray trash has to be picked up.

Students’ rooms usually are not cleaned at all during the academic year, unless the students do the cleaning. Also, suite-style dormitories — often carpeted with private restrooms and kitchenettes — pose an even bigger challenge if they were neglected all year.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore offers its residence halls to conference attendees during the summer, so its custodial services department has just two weeks between student move-out and conference move-in to completely turn over the halls.

Barry Meyer, facility manager of student housing custodial services, says the job of cleaning students’ suites is “quite a challenge.”

“We have to sufficiently clean the dorms to a hotel-room standard,” Meyer says. “It is especially tough when students don’t clean their bathroom at all between September and May.”

He says 40 percent of custodians’ time cleaning each suite is spent on the shower because usually it is coated with a year’s worth of grime.

Balancing labor
At Grinnell (Iowa) College, custodians work in small groups, moving from building to building, cleaning dormitories, says Bonita Bartachek, custodial supervisor. One group strips and refinishes floors, while another group tackles rooms, wiping walls, furnishings, doors and window sills.

In addition to suites, Johns Hopkins University also has traditional concrete-block-style dormitories with one restroom per floor. Meyer hires a contractor to clean those dorms.

“Having a contractor allows us to pull normal staff from those areas and double up on the suite-style dorms,” Meyer says.

Hargett also contracts projects at Duke to area vendors.

“They can do them cheaper and more efficiently,” he says.

Hargett also offers his third-shift workers premium pay as an incentive to clean academic buildings at night. First shift starts at 5 a.m., so floors have to be dry by then. If custodians clean at night, it helps take the pressure off the first shift to get classrooms ready by 8 a.m., he says.

A few good techniques
Housekeeping departments always should strive to be as efficient as possible, not just during the summer rush. But managers say they have learned that certain cleaning strategies and tools have helped them speed along during rush times.

“Last year we shifted the way we clean restrooms,” Meyer says. “A new no-touch cleaning system allows us to clean better in half the time. And it’s a more dignified way to clean than the old spray-and-wipe technique.”

Bledsoe says there is no secret to his schools’ floors “wet look.”

“It’s having the right equipment,” he says. “High-speed propane burnishers help us maintain our floors all year long.”

According to Bledsoe, says in the summer, custodians completely strip tile floors, then inspect them to be sure they are clean in all corners before applying the finish.

“If the floors are clean, the whole building looks clean,” Bledsoe says. “It’s the first impression when you walk into a school.”

Fresh starts
Shiny hallway floors, fresh restrooms, clean desks and classrooms will leave a good impression on students and faculty upon entering buildings on the first day of classes. Custodians also will take pride in their work when they impress customers with shiny schools and universities.

Managers should take advantage of their institution’s summer breaks, as well as other shutdown periods to catch up on cleaning projects. Janitorial Departments will stay on top of the cleaning challenge if they plan ahead, schedule around activities and hire additional help if needed.

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