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Facilities (Managing Assets)

How Clean is Clean?

Who does what, when, where and how often? And why?

Every individual on campus has her/his own definition of cleanliness. Facilities management probably receives as many comments and complaints about (perceived) cleanliness of campus spaces as they receive calls about conditions that are too hot/too cold. Is this because the level of cleaning is so visible to building occupants, and something to which they can relate? Is this because the custodial budget is among the first to get slashed when budgets have to be pirated? I think so.

The custodial portion of the FM budget is typically its single largest component, with only utilities and energy requiring a more substantial allocation. The irony is that the individuals performing these functions are among the lowest paid on the department’s pay scale.

Senior management sometimes may not know or understand the exact roles and schedules for functions performed by custodians. Thus it is a sure bet that the “customers” have little or no idea what to expect — and the custodians themselves may not have a complete understanding of what is expected of them. As a result, the custodial, and therefore the FM annual, budget may be misutilized and/or overspent.

Consider the List

There is a fairly universal list of items pertaining to custodial efforts. The attention (or lack of same) paid to these items has a direct impact on both budget and actual expense. Some of themare reviewed here:

  • Hand driers:
    Paper, electric hand driers, or those newer devices that practically remove your fingerprints?
  • Desktops:
    The responsibility of the user or the custodian (opening the door for accusations of theft or damage)? Ditto bookcases.
  • Inside windows:
    How often are they cleaned, and by whom? Does the schedule accommodate occupants’ needs?
  • Outside windows:
    Do they ever get washed, or do they get dirty enough that it increases the “U value” of the glass?
  • Glass in general:
    Let’s not forget about the lights (glass) next to or above doors (interior and exterior), table tops in public areas, etc.
  • Offices:
    What is the frequency of vacuuming? (Once per week? More than once per day?)
  • Classrooms:
    What is the frequency of cleaning? Who cleans the black/white boards, and provides the chalk/markers? Who cleans the students’ desktops and makes sure that the right (style and number of) chairs are in each classroom?
  • Research space:
    Are custodians allowed to service research labs, including hauling away potentially hazardous waste? How about operating rooms?
  • Departmental equipment:
    Who cleans items such as copy machines, refrigerators and dedicated kitchen equipment?
  • Snow removal close to entry doors:
    Custodians, occupants or snow removal crews?
  • Lamp replacement:
    How often are burned-out bulbs and tubes replaced, and by whom? Which unit in FM is responsible for cleaning lenses, etc., in light fixtures? Who removes dead bugs?
  • Restrooms:
    What is the expectation? One size does not fit all.
  • Watering plants in departmental spaces, making coffee for building occupants and sorting mail:
    Why should a custodian be allowed to waste FM time and money doing this?
  • Walls:
    Are they ever washed, or does FM rely on a regular paint schedule? (I have seen schedules varying from five to 24 years!)
  • Graffiti:
    Cleaned by whom, and how soon?
  • Cleaning up after contractors or other FM personnel:
    Should that really be included in routine maintenance responsibilities?
  • Cleaning products used:
    How “green” are they, are they appropriate for the locations where they are used, and are individuals trained in their application?
  • Recycling:
    Should the basic custodial budget support this otherwise appropriate activity?
  • Emptying wastebaskets:
    How frequently do custodians do this? Does the occupant empty his/her own wastebasket when necessary? Is this an appropriate use of academic salaries?
  • Making beds in student residential rooms:
    Hello-o!

This list undoubtedly reflects some of my own biases. This is an unavoidable side effect of writing a column. The intent, though, is to provide food for thought for the perceptive and conscientious manager of facilities maintenance and operations functions. These and other questions need to be addressed and resolved with the conclusions being constantly communicated to custodians, facilities management and building occupants. Without all of that effort, waste and unnecessary frustration are imminent.

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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