ICS Magazine

The ABC’s of Managing Educational Facilities

February 1, 2001
When most people think of commercial cleaning, they think of banks or retail environments, but where do you find a facility were traffic literally doesn’t stop and every type of flooring imaginable needs your care and attention ― anything from marble to wood, and carpet to vinyl? The answer is educational facilities; universities, colleges, K-12.

The ABC’s of managing educational facilities is one that involves a large staff and extreme organization. Each semester brings with it a different roster of events and a different set of challenges.

With enormous demands on having a good staff and the right tools, managing an educational facility requires a talent for seeing the big picture, setting up a system, and always being prepared for the unexpected. With so many factors at play, people who manage educational facilities become knowledgeable in everything from management, to the properties of different types of floors, and what cleaning products and tools work best.

CFC decided to take a look at this segment of the cleaning industry and conducted an interview with Alan S. Bigger, director of building services at the University of Notre Dame, and Chris Acker, custodial supervisor at the Wisconsin Union at the University of Wisconsin.

As Director of Building Services at the University of Notre Dame, Alan S. Bigger has seen many changes at the university as well as evolution within the cleaning industry. Bigger spoke with CFC about managing Notre Dame that faces not only the day to day high traffic challenges of a university, but the demands of a facility of such substantial dimensions.

Q. How long have you been handling the needs of your educational facility?

A. 10 years.

Q. How many technicians does your staff employ? Is this number constant throughout the year?

A. A total staff of 298. We hire an additional 300 for Commencement activities and 30-35 extras for the summer.

Q. What types of floor care and maintenance services does your department offer?

A. We offer a total floor care program for all types of floors, from vinyl to wood, from concrete to marble, from wool carpets to synthetics.

Q. How do you and your staff handle the various floor coverings found in a school? In other words, what type of equipment chemicals, and tools does your department utilize on a regular basis?

A. We have all types of equipment from small vacuums to wide area vacuums and sweepers, from hand-held floor extractors to truck mounted carpet machines. We have auto scrubbers and a robot that we have used for three years.

Q. How do the floor care needs of your facility differ throughout the year?

A. During the summer or closed periods (semester breaks), we perform heavy-duty cleaning such as stripping and heavy-duty extraction. During the school year, we do some stripping, but mainly preventive maintenance such as buffing, burnishing and light scrubbing and recoating.

Q. How does weather affect your facility’s floor maintenance plans?

A. We have to have facilities clean throughout the year. When school is not in session during the summer, we convert our residence halls into guest quarters (we have 27 residence halls, over 3,000 rooms and 6,300 beds). Weather has an impact as we try to arrange our cleaning schedules so that buildings remain clean. During the winter we may expend more time removing ice, snow and salt mopping and scrubbing than during the better weather periods when we can divert that effort into burnishing, buffing and strip/re-coating.

Q. What advice would you like to pass on to facility managers who are new to the field, or new to the needs of an educational facility?

A. One must be as flexible as a slinky toy. Every day changes and nothing remains the same ― schedules are made to be broken.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add that you think might benefit CFC readers?

A. It is a common misunderstanding that universities, colleges and even schools are closed for the summer. In higher education facilities, the summer months are the busiest time, as literally hundreds of projects have to be completed (before the students return). The issue is complicated because much of these projects have to be completed while people are either in residence or taking summer school. Even high schools are experiencing increased utilization through round the year school programs, continuing education programs, extension programs and community activities.

  • Always be flexible

  • Best practices should be used at all times

  • Compassionate understanding for the people involved, the custodians, the faculty, the staff and the students.

Summer is an incredibly complicated time at universities. Not only must we perform all routine tasks, and heavy maintenance tasks, we must also house upwards of 15,000-20,000 guests during the summer. In addition, we have hundreds of apartments that remain in use throughout the year that must be cleaned as the students graduate.

Chris Acker is Custodial Supervisor of the University of Wisconsin’s Wisconsin Union. He spoke with CFC about his experience in managing the facility and the different aspects of organizing cleaning services.

Q. How long have you been handling the needs of your educational facilities?

A. I have been employed by the University of Wisconsin since 1991, but have only been working as a Custodial Supervisor at the Wisconsin Union, a department on campus, since 1996.

Q. How many technicians does your staff employ? Is this number constant throughout the year?

A. I currently have 12 classified staff, 6 full-time limited term employees, and up to 10 part-time students and/or limited term employees. These numbers are fairly consistent throughout the year.

Q. What types of floor care and maintenance services does your department offer?

A. Our department offers full service housekeeping; my staff is strictly responsible for floors and restrooms. We do the daily sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming of our two buildings and are also responsible for floor stripping/deep scrubbing and refinishing, and buffing/burnishing. I also have two employees who strictly are responsible for carpet cleaning.

Q. How do you and your staff handle the various floor coverings found in a school? In other words, what type of equipment, chemicals, and tools does your department utilize on a regular basis?

A. My carpet cleaning crew has 4 carpet extractors (including an RX-20), 2 rotary shampooers, 2 swing buffers (for bonnet buffing), and 3 upholstery extractors at their disposal. We are currently using the SC Johnson Professional line of carpet cleaning products from SC Johnson Wax. By far, our RX-20 is the most utilized piece of carpet care equipment we own. We use this everywhere from the carpeted hallways to the meeting rooms to the hotel rooms.

For our floor care, we have 3 full size automatic floor scrubbers, 2 wet vacuums, and 4 swing buffers we use. We have almost every type of hard flooring imaginable, or at least it seems like that. We have wood, concrete, marble, terrazzo, rubber, VCT, sheet vinyl, quarry tile, and ceramic tile.

We pretty much just sweep and mop the quarry tile and ceramic floors, only scrubbing them 3 to 4 times per year. This type of flooring is, for the most part, indestructible, and does not require finish. The rest of our hard flooring is pretty much treated the same. We strip, seal and wax it once a year, always in the spring, and deep scrub and top-coat 3 to 4 times per year depending on the traffic and abuse the floors receive.

For our terrazzo, marble, VCT, and wood floors we use a sealer called Sculpture, the wax is Signature. Both are made for marble floors, but work very well on the other floors mentioned. For our sheet vinyl and rubber floors we use a sealer called Over and Under. This sealer is designed for resilient floors and works well for us. The reason we use a marble floor sealer on our wood floor is basically because of time. The room that has a wood floor is a large meeting room, about 4,000 sq. ft., and is literally in use almost every day for events such as dances, weddings, dinners, lectures, etc. We simply just cannot shut this room down for the 7 to 10 days a typical “gym floor finish” application requires.

Q. How do the floor care needs of your facility differ throughout the year?

A. Our floor care needs really don’t change throughout the year. The only time that we really notice that the students are gone is during the winter break. During this time we take advantage of the buildings being quieter by doing “project work.” Project work mainly consists of the things that we do not have time to do consistently during the rest of the year.

During the summer, unfortunately school does not close. With in a few weeks of the end of the spring semester, summer sessions start. Granted the summer sessions do not draw the 40,000 plus students that the regular semesters draw, but at the student unions, this is when we have the most people coming through our doors.

Q. How does weather affect your facility’s floor maintenance plans?

A. Believe it or not, it really doesn’t. Our maintenance plan is set in the spring, this is when we strip, seal, and wax all of our floors. We know that in August through September and again in late December through January we will be scrubbing and top coating our floors. The only thing that the winter weather changes is that we will use an alkaline conditioner, such as vinegar, to neutralize the salt residue and we switch to red pads on our automatic floor scrubbers. Of course putting out walk-off mats at the entrances goes without saying.

Q. What advice would you like to pass on to facility managers who are new to the field, or new to the needs of an educational facility?

A. Listen to what your staff has to say. They are the ones doing the work and probably have some good ideas on how to improve the job. And remember that the people using your facility are kids, be patient with them.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add that you think might benefit CFC readers?

A. The Wisconsin Union is part of the University of Wisconsin, but there are no university classes taught in either of the Union buildings. We are a student union and we have two buildings on the Madison campus. In these two buildings we have: six restaurants, 20 hotel rooms, student organization offices, two game rooms, a bowling alley, three study lounges, an outing club, 42 meeting rooms ranging in size from 150 sq. ft. to 4,000 sq. ft., a 1,300-seat theater, a 170-seat theater, a student travel center, two stores, an outside terrace on the shore of Lake Mendota that seats about 2,000 people, and a handful of offices.

During the summer, because of the proximity of the lake and the bands we have four nights a week, we average over 20,000 people through our doors per day. During the winter, I believe it is slightly less. This is why we do not have a different set of procedures for summer and winter. It just never really slows down here.

Summary

As most cleaners know, a change in seasons can mean a change in business. Down time often translates into “catch up” time in other areas besides cleaning, such as marketing or company organization. In order to succeed, the key is sometimes as Alan S. Bigger puts it, to “be as flexible as a slinky toy.”

Each job and each client is a chance to learn and grow as a service provider. The ABC’s of managing higher education facilities is often parallel to the ABC’s of running any business—how to organize, manage, and clean to the best of your ability while maintaining an atmosphere of respect, cooperation, and growth.