Digging up the Dirt

June 1, 1997
Maintenance is imperative to any school environment. And, as administrators and maintenance managers know, carpet and floor care account for a large portion

Maintenance is imperative to any school environment. And, as administrators and maintenance managers know, carpet and floor care account for a large portion of work time. Therefore, many districts are sweeping through the dust to find new ways to make cleaning and maintaining flooring more efficient and less costly.

The carpet challenge With 146,000 students, 176 buildings and 12 million square feet of carpet in the district's schools, it appears that maintenance would be an endless, formidable task. However, David Peterson, assistant director of administrative, logistical and operations services for Fairfax County Public Schools, Va., realizes the task can be handled with a clear plan.

"The average life span of carpet is about 10 years, but it can last 10 to 15 years with proper maintenance," says Peterson. "Everything is predicated on proper maintenance."

Carpet maintenance begins at the initial purchase, as the better quality the carpet, the longer it will last. In addition, every carpet manufacturer has a detailed cleaning procedure for its carpet, and this procedure should be adhered to at all times.

Besides paying attention to manufacturers' specifications, some basic schedules should be adhered to when maintaining carpet: -Heavy-traffic areas should be vacuumed daily. These include entrances, reception areas and hallways. Other high-traffic areas include cafeterias, vending-machine areas and staff lounges. -Moderate-traffic areas, such as common areas, should be vacuumed daily, with special attention to the most heavily soiled areas around doorways. -Light-traffic areas, such as offices and conference rooms, need to be vacuumed regularly during the week.

Hard-flooring maintenance, on the other hand, involves different issues. The key to cleaning high-traffic hard flooring, such as bathroom floors, is not just to deodorize and mask odors, but to really clean the space.

"Bathroom floors are hard to get clean and disinfected to where they don't smell at all. You don't want it to smell too strong, because then you're deodorizing and not cleaning," says Peterson. "Clean doesn't smell, so we try to use deodorizer sparingly."

Cutting costs Keeping a flooring-maintenance plan affordable, as well as effective, is an issue that is at the forefront of every admin-istrator's mind. Most schools have found that having a good plan when dealing with carpet and floor maintenance helps save time and costs. For instance, as Fulton County Schools, College Park, Ga., found, an inspection process can help to promote good work habits, as well as a cleaner school.

"Inspections are a routine and important component of our daily operations," says Haywood Cranford, coordinator of environmental services at the district, which has 60,000 students and 70 buildings. "This inspection enforces standards and establishes a record of the cleaning in our buildings, and deficiencies can be quickly spotted and corrected."

In addition, the products used can make a difference in work time and quality. If the wrong products are used, the results can be disastrous, not to mention costly.

"We insist on the use of matched products--products that are compatible and are produced by the same manufacturer," says Cranford. "It is senseless to attempt to strip a floor with a product made by anyone except the manufacturer of the floor finish."

The IAQ issue Promoting good indoor air quality is more complicated than just choosing the right equipment or products. The use of effective and efficient cleaning procedures and equipment can have a positive impact on improving air quality in any facility.

"Carpet is just an air filter on the floor. Unless properly cleaned, it's just going to accent the dirt and dust when students walk and breathe," says Fairfax County's Peterson. "Carpet that is not properly maintained is the easiest and fastest way to get bad indoor air quality."

To improve air quality, Fulton County Schools has begun eliminating solvent-based products and moving toward using more environmentally friendly products.

"Our management has embraced a program to replace cleaning equipment, especially vacuum cleaners, with those equipped with HEPA or high-efficiency filters that reduce particulates in the air," says Cranford. For other schools, poor indoor air quality has not been a problem; however, it is still an issue that may present itself in the future.

"We are very fortunate; we have not had the mold and mildew other schools experience," says Pete Miller, director of buildings and grounds, Boyd County Public Schools, Ashland, Ky. "We have concerns about indoor air quality and trying to keep systems clean, but we don't feel our carpet has contributed to poor quality of air."

Staffing solutions When it boils down, the maintenance staff is the most important part of the operation. The employees and how they work together can be the difference between an effective and an unsuccessful flooring-maintenance plan.

Team cleaning is one method that has proven effective for many districts in promoting teamwork, as well as efficient cleaning processes. In team cleaning, maintenance employees have specific tasks as they work through the school areas with such positions as a light-duty specialist, vacuum specialist, restroom specialist and utility specialist.

Fairfax County Public Schools began utilizing the team-cleaning concept, as well as backpack vacuums, in February and has seen a 40 percent increase in efficiency.

"We've been using backpack vacuums, which increase the square feet of vacuumed space per hour by about three times. They save time and do a better job," says Peterson. "Instead of a back-and-forth motion, they are swung side to side as if mopping. It's a more efficient motion and easier on the back."

Other schools base staffing on the amount of space one person can cover, dividing the area into equal sections.

"Our staffing is based on a square-foot formula. We have 476,624 square feet for the whole district. That's 20,500 square feet per 8-hour-day person, so basically we need 23 full-time people," says Boyd County's Miller. "In the normal course of a week, they are always doing the same type of work in the same place. If we identify a weak area, we know who it is, and it's his or her responsibility to make sure the area is clean."

Small walk-behind carpet extractors have become popular to keep areas clean. However, proper upkeep of machines can make all the difference in a floor-maintenance plan. For instance: -Never drag the vacuum shoe over stairs or bang it into concrete. -After every use, remove unused solution from the solution tank. -Clean the return tank thoroughly by washing it out with clean water. -Check cord restraints after each use. Be sure they are tight and effective. -Never adjust the brush down to the lowest level. This lowest adjustment is not for low-pile carpet, but for when the brush is worn. Moving a new brush down to the lowest setting will result in fast wear and also could damage the brush drive. -Regularly clean the brush and rotating parts that come in close contact with the carpet. Just like a brush on an upright vacuum or a vacuum powerhead, they will plug up with threads and other materials. -Periodically lubricate parts as indicated in the owner's manual. -When finished using the machine, never leave it sitting on the cylindrical brush. It will flatten out the brush on one side and will need to be replaced.

There are things schools can do to keep some of the dirt off of floors, as well as protect carpet, including: -Outside maintenance helps minimize the immediate sources of dirt around the perimeter of a building. The cleaner you keep sidewalks, parking lots and garages adjacent to the building, the less dirt will be tracked inside. Remove as much snow and ice as possible, rather than treating it with chemicals or sand.

-Soiling barriers, such as walk-off mats, grates and removable elevator carpets, help collect abrasive dirt before it can be tracked throughout the building. Soil barriers should be of high quality and large enough to allow for at east two or three steps across. It is essential that these barriers be vacuumed daily and cleaned frequently.

-Chair pads under desk chairs prevent casters from grinding in dirt over and over again. -Restricted areas for eating and drinking help keep some difficult kinds of soil confined to specific areas. -HVAC maintenance should include replacing or cleaning filters on air-handling equipment on a regular basis in order to remove as many airborne particles as possible before they are circulated again and again. In addition, effective vacuuming throughout a facility is vital for proper carpet maintenance and requires several types of equipment, including:

-Dual-motor vacuums, which use two motors to clean. One motor drives a beater-brush bar that knocks dirt loose; the other motor provides suction that pulls dirt up into the vacuum bag. This vacuum is the type of machine needed to thoroughly clean heavy-traffic areas.

-Single-motor vacuums, which are less powerful but easier to maneuver around furniture in low- to moderate-traffic areas.

-Detail or backpack vacuums, which are used to clean around the edges of a room or in confined areas around furniture.

-Carpet sweepers, which may be used for cosmetic touch-ups during the school day in order to remove surface dirt and small litter in high-visibility areas. However, the use of a carpet sweeper is not an effective cleaning method and does not take the place of thorough vacuuming.

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