Crunch Time for School Custodians

By Matt Ellis

school-cleaning_forweb.267225651_stdRemember back to the end of August? Did it seem like everyone was on vacation? The last two weeks of summer are typically when many families take vacation—after camp and just before the traditional start of school. Still, there are those for whom a vacation before Labor Day is never in the cards. Carlos Cancel knows some of those people; they work for him at United Services of America, a division of AffinEco, cleaning and preparing classrooms for the onslaught of students that comes with the fall.

End of summer is when school custodians step it up. Cancel, General Manager of United Services operations in New York and New Jersey, calls it “crunch time.”

“Right before school starts, we want to make sure everything is done right,” Cancel says. “That means cleaning inside the drawers, top-to-bottom and floor-to-ceiling.” It even includes disinfecting the plastic toys children use in Special Ed classrooms.

United Services provides cleaning services and some handyman services to nine independent schools in Manhattan and one in Jersey City. They range in size from 16,000 to 70,000 square feet.

“The toughest thing is just getting it organized,” says Cancel. “Before the end of August, I meet with the facility managers at all the schools and we go over what needs to be accomplished by the end of the break.”

According to Cancel, schools have different challenges than office buildings when it comes to cleaning and maintenance.

“There’s a different level of expectation when it comes to a school, you have to have a more critical eye,” Cancel says. “I have three kids of my own and I want these schools clean enough that I would want to send my kids there. I have a very critical eye.”

He points out that many schools will purchase their own cleaning supplies but they rely on United to provide a list of green chemicals to enhance the health of the school building and keep the kids safe.

Jorge Jimenez, General Manager for United Services in Connecticut, oversees cleaning at a dozen public schools in Stamford. He is well aware of the to-do list that has to be completed before summer ends. Over this summer, United provided construction cleanup at two public schools in Norwalk, which underwent construction and renovations. This fall, Jimenez’s team started custodial services at those same schools.

“We were running three shifts a day there,” Jimenez says.

In Norwalk, Stamford, New York City and Jersey City, AffinEco custodians know that Christmas and summer breaks are the busy season. By virtue of the fact that buildings are largely empty, crews have time to strip the floors and provide a fresh coat of wax, deep clean the rugs and carpets, or wash the walls and baseboards. Principals and Heads of School expect things will be ship-shape once vacations end and the school bells begin ringing again. And, it’s not unexpected when one checks in on a cleaning crew during vacation.

“Surprise visits from heads of school do happen on occasion,” Cancel says. “We’re ready for them. I tell them to come in anytime, but please wait until we’re done before you give us the critique and be careful of the freshly waxed floors as you walk around!”