Just after students file out of classrooms, bustling to make their way home at each school day’s end, the team that works to keep the school safe and clean swoops in. These staff members work around the clock, before students arrive and after they depart, helping to ensure that the campus is ready for the community to return day after day.
In a year where both constant, thorough sanitation and minimization of exposure to others are exceedingly critical, General Manager of Facilities Bob Wisler notes historic challenges in reevaluating the cleaning routine.
“We try to stay out of the buildings when we can so we don’t, if we have any exposure, pass that along to students, so that makes it a little bit more difficult,” Mr. Wisler said. “So not only [does] the janitorial staff have to change policies and procedures, but my whole entire organization has to change their policies and procedures.”
Among these changes include new chemicals and equipment. Pre COVID-19, the janitorial staff would perform routine cleanings with organic chemicals, following Sodexo’s seven-step process. A machine known as the Fogger, a Clorox 360 machine, has become a necessary part of the routine.
Janitorial Manager Juan Perez said, “We were one of the first in the Pennsylvania area to use the Clorox 360 electrostatic disinfect[ant] machine. It kills 99.9% of any germs, bacteria, anything. All the classrooms, bathrooms, offices, and stairwells get sprayed every night.”
In addition, staff members now perform inorganic-chemical sanitization, which is conducted in greater detail and quantity than before.
“What’s different is that we take our sanitizer—we have new sanitizer chemicals—and go around and wipe down all high-touch areas: doorknobs, light switches, all the desks, the chairs,” Mr. Wisler said.
If a suspected case of COVID is located on campus, the janitorial staff takes further and urgent action, instead of waiting until the end of the school day after the students leave.
“So if somebody calls us, or the nurse says we have a suspected case in Classroom 203, we would dispense our custodians over there and they would completely wipe down and fog that entire room,” Mr. Wisler said.
Adaptability has become essential for the Facilities team. Each month, the severity and level of the pandemic change, and students may be required to learn virtually; therefore, the staff must constantly re-evaluate their approach.
“We come up with a different plan almost every month to adjust to what’s happening on campus,” Mr. Perez said. “So, from you guys being all virtual to being hybrid, we always are implementing new plans and looking for new measures to take to ensure that the school is sanitized and properly cleaned.”
These additional tasks have required hiring more janitorial staff members and longer work hours from the team. Mr. Perez joined a few days before the campus was closed in March 2020. Despite just entering, he described the shift in cleaning standards when it became clear that the virus was going to be terribly threatening.
“So when it [COVID-19] first hit, it was at a peak and everyone was on pins and needles. Everything had to be done thoroughly—and not to say we’re not doing it thoroughly now—but, at that moment, it was just like you have to do everything you would do times ten. It kind of stood there pretty much because it became the base level of our cleaning now,” Mr. Perez said.
The janitorial staff faces added difficulty, not only in the increased cleaning, but also in understanding that their job determines the safety of the entire community.
“[We] care about the students, and we care about the faculty, so it adds a little bit more pressure onto us in order to make everything safe. The problem with that is that you get different stories from different places and different healthcare organizations,” Mr. Wisler said. “You don’t know what the right thing is to do, but you know you have to do the right thing. That is where the stress comes up, so it’s not necessarily more difficult to do it, it’s just more stress on us.”
Mr. Perez echoed the difficulty in ensuring that the campus is as safe as possible. He explained how a focus on such little, but critical tasks sometimes cause the team to miss, perhaps otherwise routine, cleaning steps.
“Everyone puts 110% in their work because that’s what they’re here for. But the stress is, did we do our job good enough to prevent anything from happening? Any cross-contamination and things of that nature? So with that being said, sometimes we could miss something because we’re so focused on doing one task that something else may get missed or left behind. So it’s not a weight of workload; it’s more a weight of ‘I hope it’s good enough,’” Mr. Perez said.
On the days when students and faculty are not on campus, the members of the janitorial staff still have a job; they perform project work that is difficult to execute when the community is on campus.
Mr. Wisler said, “The school is extremely empathetic about that. They don’t want to lose anybody, so they don’t believe in laying anybody off. What we do in those so-called downtimes when the staff nor the students are on campus we call project work; so we’ll redo all the floors, or rewax all the floors. We will do things in the gym and the squash courts that normally aren’t done every day. We also shampoo and redo carpets throughout the campus.”
Regardless of whether students and faculty are on campus to appreciate their work, the janitorial staff maintains their high standards.
“Our goal is to increase the quality of life of every student that we have,” Mr. Wisler said. “For the staff, as long as they keep that in their mind, they will do the very best job that they possibly can, and that’s all we can ask for.”
“We’re putting our best foot forward for you guys here at the school,” Mr. Perez said.
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