By. Amy Roark, Director of Nursing, and Kimberly Thomas, Executive Director – Plant Services & Custodial Operations, Clarke County School District, Athens, Georgia
At the core of the green cleaning program at Clarke County School District (CCSD) Plant Services and Custodial Operations Department in Athens, Georgia is a goal to provide clean and healthy learning environments for our students, staff, and community. CCSD began its green cleaning program in 2011 in two administrative buildings and one school. Since that time, all 24 schools and administrative facilities have been converted to the green cleaning program. Today, we clean more than 5 million square feet, serve 16,800 students and staff (which include 155 custodians and maintenance employees), and have an annual cleaning supply budget of $260,000.
The custodial staff utilizes two products for daily cleaning in all schools: a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved on-site engineered water product that disinfects and sanitizes 99.999% of surfactant bacteria/germs within 30-seconds, and a Green Seal certified restaurant-grade, no-rinse sanitizer for cafeteria tables and chairs. We are transitioning from using Green Seal certified cleaners to engineered water to further reduce our environmental footprint with cleaning chemicals in our custodial practices. We have also switched to using tap water to effectively remove floor finish and prepare most facility floors for finish application. This process has been used on vinyl tile, marble, terrazzo, concrete, and other floor types and has significantly reduced employee slip and fall hazards. Additionally, the water/environmental floor pad method provides a healthier environment for custodial employees as they work on summer facility cleaning, and is a tremendous cost savings to Clarke County taxpayers.
Another recent green cleaning program enhancement was a switch from recycled tree material restroom tissue to renewable fiber (bamboo and wheat straw) restroom tissue in all district restrooms to further utilize natural resource by-products and support U.S. farmers in regional production areas. Information from paper manufacturing professionals states that the natural materials that comprise bio-based personal paper can be harvested in a 7-year renewable cycle versus a 15 to 20-year cycle from traditional tree resources.
Training is an important part of any green cleaning program and that is no different here at CCSD. District custodial and maintenance staff receive more than 20 training hours throughout the year on cleaning procedures, equipment, indoor air quality, chemical storage and disposal, blood borne pathogens, and soft skills topics. In our facility and warehouse maintenance operations, we focus on environmentally sustainable practices in our Integrated Pest Management system, mechanical system preventative maintenance programs, and LED lighting district change-out. Using a web-based work order system and inventory management system reduces paper use while allowing employees to be more responsive to our district customers.
Schools all over the country are seeing increases in student absenteeism due to asthma and allergies. In response to these growing health concerns, both CCSD Plant Services and School Nurse Departments are focusing attention to reducing asthma and allergy triggers in school environments. Air fresheners and cleaning products with heavy volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are not purchased by the Plant Services Department. Large areas, restrooms, and athletic facilities are disinfected with targeted direct mist applications by a no-touch fogging machine in the evenings, and cleaning equipment purchases are selected with HEPA filters. We are also working collaboratively with our school nurses to collect data on health and attendance. Within our district, school nurses in 41 classroom buildings share health and absence reports with the custodial department. Specifically, our school nurses look at clinic visit details to help determine if environmental factors may play a role in students’ health complaints. The collected health data allows our facilities staff to perform targeted cleaning in specific areas in an effort to reduce allergy triggers and increase the frequency of sanitization in classrooms. Recent CCSD data has shown a 16% improvement in student absenteeism over the 15-day threshold due to asthma, reductions in chemical spending of more than 50%, and the elimination of 60 cleaning products since our green cleaning program began. It is our hope to assist in doing our part to improve student absenteeism through our facility maintenance and cleaning procedures. We are proud to be CCSD and improving student and staff health in our learning environments.
About the Authors
Amy Roark, BSN RN is the Director of Nursing Services for the Clarke County School District. The school district currently employs 13 nurses but has recently approved a decision to place a nurse in every school. This decision is in line with the district’s belief that the overall promotion of student health and well-being is an integral component in student success.
Kimberly Thomas is responsible for facilities management and custodial operations for the Clarke County School District, winner of the Green Cleaning Award for Schools and Universities’ Honorable Mention in 2014. Her department has also received recognition for its commitment to green cleaning and sustainability from the Healthy Schools Network, Environmental Protective Agency – Georgia state office, and U.S. Green Building Council – Georgia division. Prior to her role at Clarke County, she was the Assistant Director of Services for the University of Georgia – Facilities Management Division, which won the Green Cleaning Grand Award in 2010.