With a staff of 111, Kansas State Facilities covers around 6.4 million square feet in cleaning shifts from 5 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. When COVID-19 hit, the staff made major changes.
Linda Craghead, director of Facilities Services, began researching the best possible sanitization equipment to prevent the spread of the virus. The electrostatic sprayers placed in classrooms disperse QT3, a disinfectant on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s list of recommendations.
Custodial manager Stephanie Brecheisen said QT3 has a shorter disinfecting time per surface. The sprayers make it efficient for facilities staff to finish their cleaning before classrooms open in the morning. Throughout the day, professors can easily spray the room after their classes to prepare for the next group of students.
“It puts out a fine mist, and that’s all there is to it. I mean, it’s awesome,” Brecheisen said. “Otherwise, we’d be using spray bottles.”
Over the summer, facilities staff participated in weekly hands-on training, the focuses being on restrooms, classrooms and touchpoints. Every staff member learned techniques for proper disinfecting and using the new chemicals.
Come the fall semester, supervisors no longer sent their custodial specialists out to 636 classrooms, only 300. Teams of supervisors and specialists split across campus and took responsibility for different complexes.
Kristin Muehleisen, custodial supervisor, said with the work facilities staff do, it’s been nice to get some recognition from those the department serves.
“Attitude with building users, professors, students— as far as dealing with them — has been a little bit more respectful,” Muehleisen said. “It just seems to be a little bit more appreciative.”
Kelly Cheever, custodial specialist, works with a team of three colleagues in her assigned buildings. The work is tedious, but Cheever said it’s worth it to keep in-person classes in session.
“We start out with two [workers] doing classrooms. Top to bottom, they’re wiping tables, taking trash,” Cheever said. “[Another specialist] follows them afterward spraying down the QT3. It has to sit on tables for 30 minutes to be disinfected completely. We hit all touchpoints in the building entryways, restrooms, everything, for three minutes. We do that two or three times a day. Then, we hit all stairwells two to three times a day. We’re constantly, constantly disinfecting, but it gets [students] back on campus.”
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Staff clean bathrooms separately and meticulously. Every surface is disinfected multiple times a day.
Brecheisen said other universities like Clemson have delivered cleaning products and more custodial specialists to K-State facilities services.
“We get people that have been really tremendous,” Brecheisen said. “It’s been fun in a weird way. Everybody’s just stepped up and everybody’s there for everybody.”
Facilities staff get a break on the weekends, but they’re on-call for any sign of a potential outbreak or confirmed case of COVID-19 on campus. In such an event, the Riley County Police Department contacts Facilities and traces the positive case so staff can disinfect all major touchpoints in each contaminated building.
“We want [students] to feel safe. We don’t want [them] to come in feeling paranoid that we haven’t disinfected enough,” Cheever said. “We want [them] to be comfortable to come back. I feel like on campus, we have covered those grounds, so I’m hoping that next semester, we can kind of start working again as professors and buildings open up.”
Muehleisen said she’s happy to see students spending more time on campus recently.
“I thought at first they might be annoyed that I’m there spraying when they’re in there studying, but they’re not,” she said. “I think that they feel good to see that.”
The department also implemented no-touch soap and paper towel dispensers in every bathroom and space with a sink. Step-N-Pull grips installed on the inside of bathroom doors enable touch-free exits from those rooms after hand-washing.
Over the university’s holiday breaks, the facilities staff will detail clean every building and restroom. They use a no-touch power washer to work everything to the drain in the restrooms. A squeegee is also used to clean the floors.
Craghead said her team is vital for the safe return of faculty, staff and students to campus.
To celebrate all of the facilities staff’s hard work, Victoria de Souza, senior in biology, put together gift bags for every custodial specialist. Last Friday was National Custodial Appreciation Day.
In her 25 years as a custodial specialist, supervisor and manager at K-State and other universities, Brecheisen never heard of National Custodial Appreciation Day. She said it’s been nice to see the administration give custodial specialists the recognition they deserve.
“I think it’s [COVID-19] that brought my team together closer,” Muehleisen said. “We’ve had to rely on each other a lot more than we probably ever have.”