Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) is one of only three school divisions and three universities across the country recognized with a 2018 Green Cleaning Award for Schools and Universities. VBCPS was recognized with an Honorable Mention.
The award, which is presented by the Green Cleaning Network, the Healthy Schools Campaign and American School & University (ASU), recognizes educational institutions that have exemplary green cleaning programs. Specifically, “a green cleaning program goes beyond chemicals and equipment. It includes policies, procedures, training and shared responsibility efforts that minimize the impact of cleaning on the health of building occupants and staff, and that protect the environment as a whole,” according to the ASU website.
“To us, it’s a big deal,” said Director of Custodial Services, Larry Ames.
He said that the school division’s green cleaning efforts date back to 2006 – right after the school division opened Hermitage Elementary School, which was Virginia’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) School.
“We started looking at different chemicals, equipment and other things that we could add to our program.”
One of those changes was switching to green products.
“There was a misconception when they first came out that because the products were green, that they weren’t going to be effective cleaning,” Ames recalled.
“Everything that we buy has to have that third-party verification, such as Green Seal, Safer Choice or ECOLOGO certification and also be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make sure that it not only cleans, disinfects and meets quality standards, but has gone through independent rigorous testing beyond the standards set up by the government. The chemicals have to sanitize and not harm the environment,” Ames stated. “They have to meet the cleaning standard and also the green standard.”
At the end of each day after students have gone home, teams of custodians go to work thoroughly cleaning what Ames describes as “touch points” in every part of the building.
“What we do every night is wipe down all touch point areas in every room in every single school,” he said. “Anything that a student might touch, we sanitize it every night.”
Custodial Services is also integrating technology. To ensure cleaning effectiveness and financial efficiency, chemical distribution units are now in place in every building. These units automatically dilute product “so that we are not diluting too much or too little” according to Ames. That also enables Custodial Services to purchase concentrated product at lower prices and save money.
Ames is also looking into bringing in additional innovation to be tested: a smartphone-based system that allows custodians to use a scan code when they enter a room. If the night custodian notices something that needs repair, such as a lightbulb, they could log it and the system notifies the day custodian. The system also enables custodians to log in what they completed in that particular room.
“That’s the next thing that we’re looking into,” Ames states.
While they’re cleaning, custodians are also minimizing the school division’s carbon footprint in another way – through energy savings.
The division employs the “Follow the Custodian” practice, where teams of custodians work together to maximize cleaning and, as they finish a building’s wing, they turn off all of the lights. In summertime, thermostats are also on setback times so air conditioning is only running while the team is cleaning and shuts off when they leave the areas.
Even the equipment that the school division uses played was an important consideration in the award.
At Old Donation School, “we are using what’s called an On-Site Generation system that uses salt and electrified water to produces a disinfecting chemical that has no harmful effects,” according to Ames. “After seven days, the solutions converts to water which we can use to water plants.”
Teams also polish floors with scrubbers and burnishers that require less maintenance and operate at low decibels. Teams also use High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance, better known HEPA, filter vacuums to trap harmful air particles from dispersing into the air.
“The other thing is our floor finish. We make sure that everything that we use has very low Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC, which doesn’t break down. Actually, we are one of the few school divisions that use the California standard. California has the strictest standards in the country,” Ames added.
Cleaning doesn’t happen just at night. Preventative maintenance also happens while students are in school. Custodians continue cleaning the building and even disinfect tables between lunches for cleanliness and to prevent the spread of any potential allergies.
To further protect students’ health, every school custodian maintains safety data sheets that are readily available to any parent who may wish to review products.
Ames graciously credits his hardworking team.
“We have a great custodial staff who are assigned to approximately 17,500 square-feet per custodian.”
That’s where training comes in.
“We standardized our practices and our policies by bringing all head custodians in for training a couple of times year as well as offer different training programs,” he said.
Brand new custodians go through an initial training followed by a refresher course after a few months. Teaming up with the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation, custodians are also encouraged to enroll in a leadership class that provides skillful training on managing employees and keeping efficient open communications with the school’s leadership team.
During the summer, custodians can also partake in training for projects that they haven’t worked on before, such as stripping floors, or other skills that they’ll need to know before becoming a head custodian.
Why are all of these policies and practices important?
“Every night we want to make sure we provide a healthy, clean and safe environment so that students have a safe environment for learning to take place,” Ames emphasized.
Ralph Thorpe, head day custodian at Kellam High School, agreed and added one more reason.
“To me, we should do all that we can to make sure that the Earth is kept for the next generations.”