A Well-Grounded Plan

Establishing a cleaning and maintenance program for floors and carpets makes schools safer and more attractive.

To an outsider, maintaining flooring and carpeting in a school building might seem simple: The floor's dirty? Mop it. The carpet's dusty? Vacuum it. Somebody spilled something? Wipe it up.

But those routine tasks can become complicated when instead of one building you're talking about dozens, or even hundreds, all with differing uses, traffic patterns and floor types. Mix in the likelihood that an institution won't have enough maintenance workers available to keep the surfaces spiffy, and the wide array of machinery available to scrub, polish and vacuum your surfaces. What looked like a simple cleaning job has become an elaborate operation that needs a clear and comprehensive plan to work efficiently.

Whether it's a plan developed by your institution or one brought in by a company contracted to maintain your facilities, a cleaning and maintenance program for carpets and floors can help schools extend the life of their surfaces and focus an institution's limited resources on the buildings and surfaces that need the most attention. The result is a safer, more attractive and more appealing educational environment.

KNOW YOUR FLOORS Before establishing a cleaning plan, maintenance crews should have a thorough knowledge of the various surfaces involved and the equipment and supplies used to maintain them.

"We've got wood, tile, ceramic - you name it," says Tony Bautista, a program manager with a private firm contracted to provide floor and carpet maintenance at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. "How we clean them depends on the type of surface and how the area is used."

For instance, says Bautista, his workers mop science laboratories less frequently than other classrooms. This lessens the chance that cleaning chemicals might come into contact with lab materials and cause a dangerous reaction.

Hard-surface maintenance requires a variety of equipment - mops for routine cleaning and more elaborate equipment for stripping, scrubbing, buffing or burnishing a floor surface. Carpet cleaning involves regular vacuuming and occasional deep-cleaning using extraction equipment. Preventive steps such as walk-off mats help keep dirt off both carpeted and hard-surface floors.

In recent years, more school surfaces are being covered with carpeting.

"We're seeing more demand for it," says Bruce Stahlecker, preventive maintenance specialist with Omaha (Neb.) Public Schools. "Teachers seem to want it."

Some schools leave floor-maintenance decisions to those who know the situation best - the workers in each building who take care of the floors on a daily basis.

"We have a site-based approach," says Bob Peterson, supervisor of buildings and grounds in the Edina (Minn.) Public Schools. "Each building makes the choice of how they handle their carpets and floors."

The people in each building are more attuned to their specific needs, says Peterson. A high school has different usage and traffic patterns than an elementary school or a community center. The site-specific approach allows the maintenance workers to recognize and adjust their cleaning to those variations.

Regardless of who is calling the shots, schools and universities can benefit by having a training program in place for their maintenance workers. Workers can stay apprised of the latest technology, equipment and safety steps, and schools can feel more comfortable that their employees are cleaning floors and carpets correctly.

SUMMER OPPORTUNITIES Traditionally, the summer is when maintenance crews can take advantage of the absence of students and tackle most of the heavy-duty cleaning chores, such as stripping and refinishing hard-surface floors, and deep-cleaning carpets.

"We do a lot of spot cleaning throughout the year," says. Stahlecker. "In the summer we do the stripping and extracting."

But that window of opportunity is getting smaller for many institutions - fewer schools are sitting empty during summer recess. More schools are offering summer classes for students; many districts need to adopt year-round schedules to alleviate classroom crowding, and communities generally are demanding that districts maximize the use of their buildings.

"We have more and more programs during the summer," says Stahlecker. "It makes it harder every year."

The diminishing amount of down time in the summer makes it even more crucial for schools to establish an efficient cleaning program, so workers can complete the floor and carpet cleaning before it interferes with students returning from their break.

"We have to plan much more carefully," says Stahlecker.

Having busier schools in summer has made maintenance more difficult, but the increasing use of carpet in schools has lessened the impact. Stahlecker says that keeping carpeted floors well-maintained is not as time-consuming or labor-intensive as hard-surface floors.

Besides keeping schools sanitary and attractive, an effective maintenance program for floors and carpets can help improve the quality of the air your students and staff members are breathing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has compiled a checklist to help schools avoid indoor air quality problems and resolve situations if they occur. Among the recommendations related to floors and carpets:

Maintenance supplies - Become familiar with your maintenance supplies. Read labels and identify precautions regarding effects on indoor air.

- Ask vendors and manufacturers to help select the safest products available that can accomplish the job effectively.

- Develop appropriate procedures and have supplies available for controlling spills.

- Store chemical products and supplies in sealable, clearly labeled containers.

- Substitute less- or non-hazardous materials where possible.

- Schedule work involving odorous or hazardous chemicals for periods when the school is not occupied.

- Ventilate during and after using odorous or hazardous chemicals.

Dust/Dirt control - Barrier mats need to be long enough to allow five full steps for people entering the school.

- Vacuum each barrier mat daily, using a beater-brush or beater-bar vacuum. Vacuum in two directions - inline and side-to-side.

- Use higher-efficiency vacuum bags that prevent dust from passing through the vacuum back into the air. Use micro-filtration bags that retain dust and particles in the three-micron size range.

Floor cleaning - Vacuum daily as needed for soil removal. Use a vacuum with brushes, beater bars and strong suction.

- Remove spots and stains immediately, using the flooring manufacturer's recommended techniques. Avoid excess moisture and accumulation of cleaning residue. Make sure that cleaned areas will dry quickly.

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