Keeping it Clean

Dirt and grime in school buildings can be minimized with a few simple steps.

Every day, students, staff and visitors walk through school doors and throughout buildings on campus. Dirt, sand, grit and substances such as asphalt, driveway sealer, oil and grease can be tracked easily into a building, causing floors to become dirty, unattractive and even hazardous.

The fall and winter months introduce elements that challenge custodial staffs. In the fall, leaves can blow in the door and stick to shoes. In the winter, chemicals used to treat pavement make it slippery and wreak havoc on a floor's finish.

To get the maximum life out of floors, they need to be kept clean and in good shape. But most important, clean floors will help those walking on them avoid injury.

The first step

Ideally, the most effective way to keep debris from entering a building would be for occupants to remove their shoes before entering. This is highly unlikely to occur at most schools and universities, but practical alternatives are available.

Walkoff mats can prevent debris from being tracked into the building. According to David Gurwell, assistant director of facilities at Iowa City (Iowa) Community School District, walkoff mats not only help keep floors clean, but also, when used properly, prolong the life of the building's flooring.

“Mats need to be 15 to 25 feet in length,” says Gurwell. “After four steps with each foot, the mat loses its effectiveness.” Gravel and other grit carried in on shoes can scratch and deface the flooring surface.

The age of those who use the building also plays a role in determining the appropriate length for mats. Entrances where students re-enter the building from recess and other outdoor activities are more prone to wear and tear. These areas need special attention.

Bob Sperling, director of buildings and grounds, Allentown (Pa.) School District, suggests that larger and longer mats will be more effective in keeping debris out of hallways.

“Using mats indoors and outdoors increases their effectiveness of preventing debris from entering the building,” says Sperling.

In a new building at Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C., officials are planning to use carpet that is designed to work like a walkoff mat, says Tom Rocks, director of physical plant.

“In the college environment, there needs to be enough room for people to be able to pause and wipe their feet before entering the building,” says Rocks.

In the door

Not often is a single type of flooring used in an entire facility. Most have a variety of hardwood floors, terrazzo tile, vinyl composition tile (VCT), carpet, porcelain and other specialty floors, such as resonance-poured flooring. The surfaces vary in terms of maintenance, life expectancy and aesthetic features.

“Carpet is probably one of the easiest-to-maintain flooring options we use,” says Gurwell. “All that it requires is vacuuming and shampooing as it's needed.”

It may be easy to maintain, but when it is time to replace the carpet, the expense can be a factor. VCT, on the other hand, is one of the least-expensive options available. It is relatively inexpensive to install, but it is also one of the most maintenance-demanding products. A dust mop can get rid of most surface debris, but spills and stains may require more attention. Waxing, stripping and buffing are needed to maintain a clean and shiny appearance.

In areas such as science labs, a different type of floor often is recommended. A resonance-poured floor creates a monolithic appearance. It doesn't have cracks or seams, which could serve as a breeding ground for bacteria.

Finding time

Even when the best walkoff mats are available, installed and used properly, some debris will get in the door. Fortunately, several cleaning options are available. Whether it is individuals, teams of cleaners or a combination of both, each facility needs to determine what works best.

“Team cleaning allows us to be more efficient and effective,” says Steve Yoakem, facilities director at Whittier College, Whittier, Calif. “We have a pilot program in five buildings that is working well, and by the end of the year we hope to have team cleaning in all of our buildings.”

Floor sweepers, riders and backpack vacuum cleaners aid the cleaning of the 402,000-square-foot Fond du Lac High School, Fond du Lac, Wis.

“Team cleaning really increases our productivity and the level of cleanliness throughout the building,” says Jim Gescheidle, supervisor of buildings and grounds, Fond du Lac High School.

The majority of schools are being used more and more for community events and activities, forcing cleaning staffs to limit major cleaning efforts to school vacations.

“The school never closes due to community events in the evenings and on weekends,” says Sperling. “We have to work around it and do our major projects like stripping, recoating and applying new finishes during summer breaks.”

Quotable

David Gurwell

Assistant Director of Facilities, Iowa City Community School District, Iowa City, Iowa.

“Mats need to be 15 to 25 feet in length. After four steps with each foot, the mat loses its effectiveness.”

Bob Sperling

Director of Buildings, Allentown School District, Allentown, Pa.

“The school never closes due to community events in the evenings and on weekends. We have to work around it and do our major projects like stripping, recoating and applying new finishes during summer breaks.”

Tom Rocks

Director of Physical Plant, Wofford College, Spartanburg, S.C.

“In the college environment there needs to be enough room for people to be able to pause and wipe their feet before entering the building.”

Steve Yoakem

Facilities Director, Whittier College, Whittier, Calif.

“Team cleaning allows us to be more efficient and effective. We have a pilot program in five buildings that is working well and by the end of the year we hope to have team cleaning in all of our buildings.”

Hale is former assistant editor of AS&U.

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