Eight years ago an Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) technician inspected the four elementary schools, middle school, and high school that comprise East Greenwich Public Schools in Rhode Island. She observed a lot of particulate matter in carpeted areas and warned school officials about the possible health impact.
Particulate matter is microscopic solid or liquid particles that suspend in the air, including dust, pollen, dander, soot, smoke, etc. People inhale particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter (a micron is a millionth of a meter or one thousandth of a millimeter), making those particles a health threat to those with asthma and allergies.
Based on her findings, the IAQ technician recommended the school district switch to ProTeam vacuum cleaners with advanced filtration. These vacuums capture and contain microscopic particulate matter. This means that allergens and asthma triggers are reduced, creating a healthier and safer learning environment.
The school district made the switch. They now use ProTeam upright vacuums, the ProForce 1500XP HEPA and the ProGen 15, to clean carpeted areas, and ProTeam backpack vacuums, the Super CoachVac HEPA and the Super Coach Pro 10, for hard flooring. The cleaning staff felt uncertain about the switch.
“There was resistance to the change initially,” said Bob Wilmarth, Director of Facilities and ten-year veteran of the school district. “Over the course of time, the staff has grown to like the backpacks. They are true timesavers.”
Previously, Wilmarth’s staff cleaned hard flooring with oiled dust mops. They pushed debris from hallway and classroom floors together in piles to dispose of it. This created a couple of problems. The oil treatment yellowed the flooring, meaning they needed to strip and wax hard floors more frequently. The dust mops also pushed debris into corners and crevices, creating a grimy buildup over time.
“Now we use a combination of ProTeam backpack vacuums and microfiber damp mops,” said Wilmarth. “There is a dramatic difference in cleanliness over the oiled dust mops. The buildup isn’t there in the corners, and we can go longer between floor stripping.”
For carpeted areas, the district was using upright vacuums that cost about 150 dollars a piece. According to Wilmarth, these vacuums were better suited to cleaning homes than a school. They would wear out and break down quickly, and the district would have to buy a dozen more each year to replace their fleet.
“When we made the small investment to go to ProTeam vacuums, we noticed that we didn’t need to replace them,” said Wilmarth. “Besides casual maintenance by the employees, there was no major maintenance or repairs to be done. The ProTeam vacuums I bought that first year are still going strong, so, instead of replacing vacuums, we have been adding vacuums until every custodian has one.”
Wilmarth has also implemented policies to rapidly follow up with any issues related to IAQ. This sends a strong message to the district’s 250 staff members and 2,500 students that their health and safety is of the utmost importance.
“Whenever we get a complaint that could be related to indoor air quality, we send out questionnaires,” said Wilmarth. “We ask about the air quality. We ask if there have been any strange smells. We ask if there are new stains on the ceiling, floor, or walls. If we get hits back we investigate with air testing in the building.”
All these efforts add up to creating a healthy learning environment for students. Influenced Rex Morrison’s work with the nonprofit consortium Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS), Wilmarth uses a hybrid of PC4HS, team cleaning, and traditional zone cleaning. This blend of styles works for Wilmarth’s staff of 20 and keeps the health of the indoor environment a top priority.
“If we spread germs while cleaning, that leads to less time with students in their seats,” said Wilmarth. “I believe that the more students are in their seats with a high level of Indoor Air Quality and good lighting, the more learning takes place.”