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Provo City Schools Research Part III: The Incredible Results of a Systematic Approach to Cleaning

Note: If you’ve yet to read parts one and two of this series, you’ll want to check them out before reading this post. This series is based upon the research of Dr. Jeffery Campbell as presented in his paper, “Clean Schools Initiative: Provo City School District Case Study.”

Like many other aging academic buildings located throughout the U.S., Dixon Middle School has welcomed several generations of students through its doors. Built in 1931, the school has been renovated over the years to accommodate more students — it is now three times as large as its original structure. But it had issues. Not only was the school the oldest in the Provo City School District in Utah, it was also considered the dirtiest.

Cleaning-related challenges weren’t isolated just to this school, however. The entire school district struggled with uncontrolled cleaning costs, a lack of accountability with custodial staff and schools not getting cleaned.

To address these challenges, the district decided to pilot the (OS1) cleaning system. Previous users of the system had found it helped control costs, improve indoor environmental quality and improve the health of the building occupants, so they were eager to give it a try.

Dixon Middle School: Before

Before implementing the program, a baseline audit was conducted of more than 1,242 janitorial-related items throughout the school. This included a review of janitorial positions, management programs, purchasing processes and training. The purpose of the audit was to offer a reference point to measure progress. Dixon received an initial audit score of six percent.

The auditors found that the school had lacked in most areas related to its cleaning program, including supplies, organization, training and processes used.

Custodian job descriptions were insufficient, cleaning tools were broken and dirty, unmarked cleaning bottles littered janitorial closets, dirty mops revealed the same color as the bathroom tile, pipes in the restrooms showed rust and discoloration from the use of improper cleaning chemicals and custodians were generally apathetic. This last point was evidenced by the “countdown to retirement” calendar located in the head custodian’s office.

Additional issues included:

  • No career track or incentive for advancement in place for janitors.
  • No standardization of products or processes throughout the district—each school operated independently without communication.
  • Hoarding of cleaning tools and supplies.
  • No chain of command or accountability for janitors—the head custodian didn’t know who he reported to.
  • Raises were based on the length of employment rather than performance.
  • Activity was more reactive than proactive, meaning custodians spent more time responding to the complaints of teachers rather than focusing on improving the general cleanliness of the campus.
  • Custodians had no guidelines for purchasing chemicals, other than what suggestions vendors offered.

Dixon Middle School: After

A year following the implementation of (OS1), a standardized cleaning program, Dixon’s audit score improved from six percent to 80 percent. That score has continued to increase in the years since.

The changes have been drastic, including an overall improvement in cleanliness, better morale amongst the teachers and custodial workers, improved health and wellness of building occupants, cost savings and more.

Some of the specific results include:

Better Health: One teacher who suffered severe migraines causing her to have to call off from work noted that she had not had a migraine or blackout incident since the new cleaning program was implemented (she also switched to use of green cleaning chemicals at home). She cited fewer allergy issues as well.

Improved Safety: Where containers of bleach and unlabeled chemical bottles once littered closets throughout the building, the school has transitioned to a new chemical management system. A single locked cabinet holds all the chemicals and supplies used on a daily basis. With thorough training and better controls, this has substantially improved the safety of custodians and students.

A Better School: Improving the cleanliness of the school has led to a domino effect throughout the school. Walls were painted to better reflect the cleanliness of the school, teachers became more organized and tidy and students took more pride in their school. Once a major issue, the amount of graffiti at Dixon has virtually been eliminated.

Awards: In 2011, Dixon Middle School received the “Best New Program Award” in the K-12 Category of the Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities, sponsored by American School & University magazine, the Green Cleaning Network and Healthy Schools Campaign.

The Dixon Middle School pilot team is recognized with the Outstanding Cleaning Worker Award.

Each of their pilot team members was honored as an Outstanding Cleaning Worker at the 2011 Cleaning Industry Awards Banquet.

Reducing Costs: While it’s tough to say exactly just how much the change to (OS1) has saved the school (the school didn’t keep purchasing records and funds were drawn from several different budgets), the new system has reduced the average monthly chemical cost to $80.29, making the chemical cost per cleanable square foot $0.00076. When adding in labor and other costs, the estimated cost to clean per square foot is roughly $.77.

This is substantially lower than projected costs from IFMA, which estimate the average   cost per square-foot for cleaning educational facilities to be $1.36.

Improved Morale: The head custodian said the experience changed his life.

“I had been doing [custodial management] for 12-13 years, and it was the first time that someone had approached me and said, “You are important, the job that you do is important. The people that work with you are important and we need to recognize them for that and give them the training, the tools and the equipment that show that your job is really a profession.”

With these incredible results in hand, the Provo City School District made the decision to roll out the program to the rest of its schools. Clean schools are better, higher-performing schools. And when you have data that helps you measure the impact of your cleaning program, including the benefit to teachers, students, administrators and the overall longevity of the building, the decision makes itself.

Provo City Schools Research Part I: What is “Clean,” Anyway?

Many building owners and managers don’t realize that the cost to clean a building over its lifetime will nearly equal the cost of its original construction. When you think about it, that’s pretty mind-blowing. Yet while construction materials and practices have evolved to improve efficiency and bring costs down, most schools are still using the same cleaning practices used 80-plus years ago.

We’ll be the first to say that using the proper cleaning products, tools and practices is important in any type of facility, but schools are particularly important because of their potential impact on student performance and health. In this three-part series, we’ll examine just how important of a role that cleaning plays in a school—specifically, an old K-12 school in Provo, UT. Using Dr. Jeffrey Campbell’s two-year research study entitled “The Clean Schools Initiative: Provo City School District” as a guide, we’ll look at the following:

  • How cleanliness is assessed and measured.
  • How the performance of cleaning personnel is evaluated.
  • How cleaning impacts indoor air quality.
  • How a standardized approach to cleaning can transform a school by improving morale,  saving money and creating a healthier, more productive indoor environment.

Ready?

How do we define “clean”?

Surprisingly, not one generally accepted definition of “clean” exists. This leads to broad discrepancies in how we clean. For example, some facilities clean for health (e.g. cleaners in healthcare clean to remove potentially harmful viruses and bacteria), and others clean for appearance (e.g. cleaners in a retail setting may clean to remove fingerprints and smudges from glass doors and display cases). But in order to identify how we should clean, we need to first identify what “clean” is and what it can achieve—so it’s a pretty critical piece of the puzzle.

In the book Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health, author Dr. Michael Berry writes, “cleaning is not only an activity, but a process and special form of management.”

Dr. Berry has conducted extensive research around the topic, looking at how cleaning impacts the educational performance of students and teachers. In particular, his study of the Charles Young Elementary School in Washington D.C. analyzed student performance before and after the building was remodeled and a higher standard of maintenance and cleanliness was implemented. His research revealed a strong correlation between the quality of of the physical school and quality of learning.

So if cleaning can have such positive outcomes (health, productivity and others), shouldn’t we also consider that in the definition?

Dr. Campbell proposes the following:

“Cleaning is a process that locates, identifies, contains, removes and properly disposes of an unwanted substance from a surface or environment, and contributes to the health and well-being of those who occupy the environment.”

By identifying a single commonly accepted definition of clean, we can start to streamline the processes that get us to that desired result.

How would you define clean? If it were a standardized process, do you feel that would allow us to better achieve the desired outcome of consistently “clean” environment?

In the next part of our series, we’ll look at how discrepancies in measurement of janitorial productivity and why clean matters—specifically in schools.