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It’s Not Easy Keeping Clean

It’s Not Easy Keeping Clean

Here's how proactive housekeeping and maintenance, rather than reactive, saves time and money

When you think about it, the subject of housekeeping can be a controversial one. In some families, it's a bone of contention between husbands and wives; in others, it's the children that complain of having to do too many chores. In houses of worship, while keeping things clean has nothing to do with whether or not, as a result, Junior will get to borrow Dad's car, it can have everything to do with the impression that a church makes on potentially new attendees. What makes this particularly messy is that, at the core, the definition of "clean" means different things to different people.

"One of the key elements is to understand: what does it mean to be clean?" says Tim Cool, president and chief solutions officer at Cool Solutions Group, a ministry facilities management and development group in Charlotte, N.C. "You need to set the expectations up front to understand what it means to have a clean-looking building, or to have the exterior clean." Regular attendees may overlook such details as the grass that's grown up through the cracks in the sidewalk, or the piece of duct tape that's stuck to the carpet in the entrance. "However, with our newer visitors, that's the first thing that they see. If they walk into a facility and they happen to look up at the ceiling and the HVAC registers are covered in dirt, that then tells them that this church doesn't care much about their facility." What, he adds, does that say about them as a cultural center? As trivial as it may sound, a little dust and dirt can lead to some big questions.

"It starts at the street and works its way in," says Doug Mefford, facilities manager at First Presbyterian Church of San Bernardino in San Bernardino, Calif. "You've got to deal with curb appeal all the way to the cleanliness of things like door handles. You've got to be proactive about it, because if you're just reactive, you're going to put in more man-hours trying to play catch-up."

Clean Saves Green

The other side of the equation is that keeping facilities clean reduces maintenance costs. Consider these figures: according to Cool, the average cost to remove a pound of dirt from a facility is $680 taking into account labor and equipment expenses. Sound exorbitant? It is, but churches can take heart: by installing floor mats at the entrance, facilities can cut this cost by half or even more. "Ninety percent of all dirt that enters a building comes from our feet," Cool says. "The rest of the dirt is airborne, and comes from the HVAC system."

In defining the meaning of clean, Cool underlines that churches need to decide how they are going to spend their time cleaning. For example, a standard, upright vacuum cleaner cleans approximately 3,500 square feet per hour. A backpack-style unit can clean more than double that. "When we start looking at how clean we want something, we then have to analyze what the cost is to keep that clean," he explains. "Is it worth spending an extra $200 or $300 to buy a backpack and train a staff member to use a more modern-day piece of equipment that can clean twice as much space?"

Churches with sports flooring surfaces to clean and maintain will benefit from regular cleaning of those surfaces, as well. Bob Krauss, Orange, Calif.-based TKH Design's operations manager, reports that his company's Courtclean Damp Mop Systema lightweight, pull-behind cleaning system that covers a good deal of floor areahelps remove daily build up of tracked-in dirt and debris that can damage hardwood floors and gym floors. Krauss says that cleaning one time per day with Courtclean takes just 10 minutes on most floors, an approximate savings of 50 minutes over what a once daily floor cleaning would take with a mop and bucket. At an average hourly labor rate of $20, Courtclean's projected savings is $16.67, or $4,334 per year cleaning the floor once a day, according to Krauss.

In choosing a vacuum cleaner, Mike Schaffer, president of Tornado Industries in Chicago, manufacturer of industrial cleaning solutions, urges churches to purchase one that comes equipped with a HEPA filter. "In addition to protecting the indoor air quality of the facility, HEPA-filtered vacuums also ensure that the soil and debris being picked up remain in the dust compartment and not spewed back into the air stream to settle on other surfaces," he explains.

There is also the lifecycle of the various elements that make up a church. "By doing things on a more proactive basis, and planning out preventive cleaning tasks, you can actually reduce the cost and the time involved to do the routine and corrective cleaning," Cool points out. "You also extend the life of the product." For instance, if the cleaning schedule dictates that once a quarter it's necessary to conduct a thorough carpet cleaning, it saves money in labor down the road because there isn't a heavy build-up of dirt in that carpet.

Schaffer advises even those churches that subcontract their cleaning tasks to invest in a carpet extractor so that they are able to quickly react to things like spills, accidents or the debris that accompanies inclement weather. "Carpet is such a major expense in the average facility that it is generally a wise investment to have a way to regularly maintain it in-house, even if you bring in an outside contractor on an annual or semi-annual basis to clean the entire facility," he says. He also notes that carpet extractors are superior to shampooers and bonnet machines. "The reason is simple: an extractor actually removes soils from carpet fibers, leaving carpets more thoroughly clean." Shampooers and bonnet systems remove surface soils and often leave chemical agents in the carpet, which, in turn, attract more dirt.

Scheduling Some Clean Time

Both regular and preventive cleaning require that facilities managers have a handle on scheduling. Through its comprehensive facilities management system, FacilityTree, based in Carol Stream, Ill., enables churches to manage routine cleaning and maintenanceas well as those inevitable surprises, such as a large spill or a broken itemso that the right tasks are assigned to the right people, and that sufficient resources are allotted to the job. "[Our facilities management system] provides the flexibility so that each church can set it up differently," explains John Conlon, president of FacilityTree. "Some churches divide maintenance and custodial into two groups. Others have worship facility support, which is setting up events, housekeeping and maintenance. Everyone has their own system, and this allows them the flexibility so they can operate the way they want to."

The system also takes into consideration that churches are not like other like other facilities. The same room, depending on the time of day, may be put to a wide-ranging number of uses: during the afternoon, it may be reserved for an adult ministry meeting, and then after school it may house up to 50 children. "If you have 50 kids come in to do a certain activity, that room is not going to be as clean as when 50 mothers have used it," Conlon reasons. FacilityTree offers the industry standard in terms of what it should take in time and resources to clean a certain type of room, and then allows churches to make their own individual adjustments. "You can go out and do the work, track your time and change your estimated hours and project for the right amount of staff and resources," Conlon adds.

Healthy, Green Cleaning

While it may not be easy remaining clean, it is becoming increasingly easier to go green. Mike Sawchuk, vice president and general manager of Enviro-Solutions in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, provider of safe cleaning chemicals, notes that these days, the guesswork involved in determining whether or not a product is actually green has been eliminated. "Organizations such as EcoLogo and Green Seal now independently evaluate these products," he explains. "If proven green,' they bear the label of these organizations so users know they have a reduced impact on the health of cleaning professionals and building occupants as well as on the environment."

According to Cool, in many cases green cleaning products are less expensive than standard chemicals, provided that users adhere to the dilution instructions. They are also, as the term "green" suggests, much better for the environment: building cleaner that comes in the form of cakes or tablets, and that can be diluted into re-usable plastic bottles, cuts down on the amount of plastic and cardboard packaging that would eventually be disposed of anyway. "If you are willing to use the green concentrates or the tablet that you add water to in your own plastic bottles, green has enormous savings right now," he says.

On another level, Mefford urges churches to view cleaning and maintenance as a ministryjust as any other. "As facilities managers, we want to remove any obstacles that may be in the way of a parishioner coming into fellowship to experience Christ's love," he says. "It's very important for me, as a facilities manager, that I consider this a ministry and not just a job. We facilitate ministry happening. We are not the pastor in the pulpit or the teacher in the classroom, but we are facilitating those things."

Inside ... and Out
While “clean” may mean different things to different people, one thing that’s difficult to argue about is that keeping a facility spic-and-span requires churches to focus on the exterior as well as the interior. And sometimes, what facilities do on the outside can have an impact on how they appear on the inside.

Tim Cool, president and chief solutions officer at Cool Solutions Group in Charlotte, N.C., notes that one of the biggest mistakes that facilities make is planting shrubbery too close to the actual building. “Too often, churches put beautiful shrubbery up and then they let it grow so that it’s actually touching the building,” he says. “Pollen and other organic substances then get on the building and discolor brick, stucco and other materials.” If the plants are overgrown, they block sunlight, which can give a room the appearance of being dirty because it’s not receiving all of the sunlight that it should.

Buildings-especially stucco structures-should be pressure-washed on a regular basis. “Even though the stucco doesn’t need to be re-painted, it does need to be pressure-washed to get the organic materials, mold and mildew off of it,” Cool explains. “Eventually, there will end up being gaps and cracks, and if you’ve got organic materials on it, they’re going to make their way inside the building.”

Leaving it to the Experts
One of the factors to consider when assessing your janitorial situation is the cost of doing it in-house vs. the cost of outsourcing cleaning and upkeep. Facilities that handle janitorial duties themselves must also consider the indirect expenses associated with labor, management, benefits, insurance and the administration that comes into play whenever employees are involved, such as processing time sheets and payroll.

This is why, in some cases, outsourcing cleaning and maintenance may prove to be a wiser investment. The trick is to find a company that does the job right. Tim Cool, president and chief solutions officer at Cool Solutions Group in Charlotte, N.C., notes that the most important thing to look for in a cleaning company is organization. “Ask yourself: Are they set up in such a way that they already have checklists, or do they just come in and wing it?’” he advises. “They should have a checklist that outlines that on these days they do this work, once a week they have to do these things, once a month they have to do these things, once a quarter they have to do these things, and so on.”

When outsourcing cleaning tasks, churches should assess how to best use the hired help so that they are reaping the full benefit of their investment. “Where churches struggle with the idea of outsourcing is this: we also need our janitorial staff to be the people that set up tables and chairs throughout the day,” Cool illustrates. Is that, however, the best use of that person’s time, if they are a professional cleaner? “Churches need to look closely at what they really want someone to do, and [at] the most effective way of getting that job done.”

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