3 biggest school maintenance challenges, and solutions, during COVID-19
As the debate about resuming in-person classes in schools across the country continues, it’s clear that the most pressing priorities of schools have changed. In previous years, school administrators used to be occupied with issues surrounding funding, safety, and physical access control. Although all those issues are still valid, the coronavirus pandemic has added additional layers of concern. The body of evidence is growing that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, they might play a role in transmission.
This is, therefore, an ideal time for school administrators to carefully consider their mitigation strategies to help protect students, teachers, and staff and to also limit the spread of COVID-19 within their school’s premises.
In their efforts to keep the entire school community safe, preserving and improving the condition of the buildings and environment via adequate building maintenance is of utmost importance.
Below, we look at the biggest maintenance challenges that schools will face in the coming months, and discuss some possible solutions to help minimize and manage these challenges.
1) Better hygiene and cleaning practices
Since COVID-19 spreads through contact with infected people and droplets, keeping spaces and surfaces clean and hygienic is a key requirement at this time. Especially in the case of younger children as they may not quite understand the required precautions.
To adequately combat this issue, the maintenance department will need to instill a proactive cleaning regime executed by diligent cleaning staff. That said, for a busy school environment, there are several points to pay close attention to such as:
- Decluttering long-unused materials, books, etc to allow for deep cleaning and disinfecting before the school reopens.
- An adequate supply of hygiene materials such as hand sanitizers, contactless soap and water dispensers, no-touch trash cans, tissues, etc.
- Frequent cleaning and inspection to help ensure the best levels of cleanliness and hygiene especially in high-contact areas like reception areas, communal spaces, conveniences, and meeting rooms, and the frequent cleaning of door handles and staircase rails, etc.
- Cleaning staff must be protected while working by wearing the appropriate protective gear for each task.
- The importance of using EPA-registered disinfectants against COVID-19.
Adhering to these measures as well as those contained in the more detailed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can help schools reopen and stay open safely for in-person learning.
2) Maintaining healthy environments
Another area of concern is the health of school buildings, especially where the schools are operating in older buildings. It’s important to verify that the systems there are still in a viable condition to help combat the spread of COVID. With this in mind, the maintenance department will need to pay attention to all equipment that can directly affect air quality by ensuring that:
- Increasing outside air rates is advisable as outdoor air may potentially help to dilute and replace contaminated indoor air. In this case, fans can be used to improve ventilation in addition to keeping classroom windows open as often as possible.
- Faulty, outdated, or underperforming heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are repaired, replaced, or upgraded as required.
3) Enforcing compliance
Having done all the above, if loopholes exist in a school’s maintenance processes, issues can arise that will promote the spread of the coronavirus. This can happen if stakeholders do not comply with the guidelines and instructions or if they do not change their behavior to adapt to the new realities. In this regard, one category of stakeholders that will need close monitoring are contractors and other hired workers that are coming into the premises for various maintenance tasks.
Ensuring compliance with agreed preventive measures will require that:
- There is frequent communication and training for every external worker coming into the school.
- There are strict penalties for defaulters.
- Random checks are conducted to ensure that contractors are working as required and that they are following best practices in line with COVID-19 mitigation recommendations.
Every school is unique and although there is no one size fits all solution to maintenance challenges during the coronavirus pandemic, the above tips will help. Furthermore, to help simplify these processes and reduce inefficiencies, school administrators could consider implementing a planned maintenance schedule supported by a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) if they do not already have one.
Following these actions will help in ensuring a safe learning environment.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a modern, easy to use mobile CMMS software that takes the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate, and streamline their maintenance operations.