4 tips for managing an empty school this fall

As we head into autumn, the time to make the difficult decision is here: Will students return to school campuses or not?

Researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the University of Cincinnati and the Pediatric Research in Inpatient Settings Network in Ohio published a new study stating that “school closure may have been associated with approximately 1.37 million fewer cases of COVID-19 over a 26-day period and 40,600 fewer deaths over a 16-day period.”

There are strong arguments on both sides of the situation, but time is running out to make the decision. It was only in the past week that officials in my county in Maryland announced that schools will be shuttered for at least the first semester, and students may be able to return to school in January.

While schools remain empty, a unique opportunity becomes available to facilities maintenance personnel. It’s time to consider what the day-to-day job is going to look like in the autumn.

1. Get organized

Without students and faculty on campus, more time becomes available to focus on getting facilities organized and prepared to run more efficiently than ever before. While facilities maintenance personnel are busy tending to busy job after job around the building, the stockroom only strays further away from organization.

Many facilities maintenance workers become comfortable with the seek-and-find exercise, spending 5-30 minutes searching for the part needed to finish the job. Typically, people know the general are where the part should be, and if it isn’t there then it must need to be reordered.

Getting organized, and eliminating the seek-and-find process from the facility, not only saves valuable time, but it also saves money, helps to increase safety, and clears up more space to work with in the stockroom.

A Best Plumbing Specialties sales representative can personally visit facilities for a free consultation, providing an idea of what is currently in stock and what inventory levels are ideal for the specific facility type and size. Best Plumbing Specialties also offers customized assortment kits to help keep parts labeled, visible, and easily transportable to job sites.

2. Change the settings

A building that is mostly unoccupied can reduce monthly energy costs because HVAC controls can be running at a low load. Even in situations where the typical settings reflect low energy usage, they can typically be lowered even further during while students are not present.

Buildings with reduced occupancy will further save on energy costs because individuals will not be present to set the controls to their preferred setting. By the time the building returns to full occupancy, facilities personnel can be prepared to communicate with occupants about energy usage policies and reasons to reduce energy usage in the building.

3. Deferred maintenance

It’s better late than never. But, most facilities personnel are well-aware of how quickly the list of postponed repairs can expand and turn into a costly problem. Having a near-empty building presents the rare opportunity to cross a number of these deferred projects off your list.

Manufacturers will provide a recommended timetable in procedure and operating manuals to avoid unexpected breakdowns. When equipment does breakdown and fail, it results in expensive and time-consuming labor to repair, or even completely replace the unit.

A mountain of jobs that have piled up is daunting and can seem impossible to complete; set small, achievable goals when there is a long list of jobs to be completed. Breaking up tasks into smaller goals will help to track progress and work can be divided up to accomplish goals quicker.

Successful planning also accounts for budget restraints—including a “run to fail” element. This means planning on replacing equipment and parts that are cheaper to replace than they are to maintain through regular repairs.

4. Protect your people

While students and faculty are not occupying schools in the fall, the opportunity is available to disinfect large area with chemicals that some individuals may be sensitive to. Flooding rooms, especially small rooms or elevators, with aerosolized disinfectants can cause a reaction in occupants including headaches, nausea, vomiting, mood swings, watering eyes, and irritability.

While the school is largely unoccupied, the building can be properly disinfected without the concern of a person entering the room directly afterwards, or triggering a reaction from occupants. Protective gear should be worn while disinfecting the building to ensure a reaction does not occur in maintenance personnel.

A plan should be developed for blocking off disinfected rooms from reentry and disinfecting spaces safely to protect students and faculty when schools are able to return to full occupancy. Consider using the time when fewer people are in the building to also improve upon HVAC filtration and restroom fixtures to further protect occupants.

Switching to hands-free fixtures in restrooms will limit the number of surfaces that people will touch and help to stop the spread of disease. However, there are also options that may be more cost-effective while achieving the same goal, such as bactericidal toilet handles.

It is important to communicate with everyone in the building about the new changes that are made. A better understanding of the purpose and instructions on usage will make people feel more comfortable about the changes, help to protect the new fixtures, and help improve upon safety.

What is likely the most obvious benefit of keeping schools closed in the fall, is the dramatically reduced risk for spreading viruses. Studies have shown that children 10 to 19 years old can spread infections to adults just as easily as adults can spread them to other adults, but there is not yet clear how infants through children 10 years old spread infections, according to CNN report.

Facilities managers are challenged with creating an environment safe for students, faculty, and themselves due to a virus that is not fully understood. While schools are closed facilities personnel can aggressively disinfect the building to protect occupants with the additional benefits of being able to organize the stockroom, make repairs around the building, and upgrade restroom fixtures.

Now may be the ideal time to experiment with new methods and technologies to make improvements that will transfer to the school reopening. Your building can benefit by eventually becoming more efficient and organized than ever before.

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