By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Custodians gang up to give schools a thorough cleaning

Starla Pointer / News-Register
John Friedrich and Ron Harper move quickly across a classroom steamcleaning the carpet. As they pass, Kent Mahelona moves furniture out of their way.
Starla Pointer / News-Register
,b> John Friedrich and Ron Harper move quickly across a classroom steamcleaning the carpet. As they pass, Kent Mahelona moves furniture out of their way.

Friedrich, maintenance supervisor for the McMinnville School District, pushed an 80-pound steam cleaning machine. Beside him, Sue Buel School head custodian Harper played out the machine’s two lifelines, an electrical cord and a tube filled with 160 degree water.

As the team made its way up and down the classroom, Kent Mahelona moved furniture out of their way. Mahelona, a food service delivery driver doing summer duty on the custodial crew, pulled chairs, bookcases and a kindergarten-size barn from the center of the room to the side. He moved so quickly, Friedrich and Harper never had to break stride.

It took only about 15 minutes for the three men to finish work in the classroom, from the time they walked in and started moving furniture until the time they finished the steam cleaning and returned everything to its rightful place. Then they moved on to the next classroom and began their dance again.

And when they finished all the carpets at Sue Buel, they planned to move on, as a team, to another school. There they might run into another custodial crew waxing floors.

The group projects are designed to get as much cleaning and maintenance work done as possible, as quickly as possible, during the summer break, Friedrich said.

“Then we give the school back to the building custodians, so they can do what they need to finish,” he said.

At Sue Buel, for instance, Harper said he will use the remaining time this summer to wash walls, touch up paint, clean and paint stair handrails, and scrub and bleach restroom tile.

Summer, when students are on vacation, is the time for giving schools the kind of attention not possible during the school year. While carpets are vacuumed every other day and trash is emptied and bathrooms cleaned on a daily basis, there’s not time between classes for repainting, rewaxing and really deep cleaning.

This summer, Harper, Friedrich and other  crew workers will steam clean about 500,000 square feet of carpet. They’ll hit every carpeted area in every building in the district, including six elementary schools, two middle schools, the newer parts of McMinnville High School, the district office, the Cook modular building and the Adams campus.

It’s hot, brutal work, especially in buildings without air conditioning, Friedrich said. He has crews start at 5:30 a.m. so they can finish before the hottest part of the day.

The waxing crews start early, too, as they visit each building doing non-carpeted areas and, in some cases, gym floors. After both types of floors are finished, the crews will turn to cleaning windows, even the high-up ones they must reach with an extension pole.

The group effort involves all of the district’s seven maintenance workers, 34 custodians and four grounds crew members. A few additional workers, such as Mahelona, are pulled in from other areas or hired for extra hours.

Still, that’s not many people to cover all the district’s interior space, said Friedrich and Vicki Williams, director of facilities.

“We have over a million square feet to take care of,” Williams said. The space ranges from century-old Adams to Sue Buel and the newer parts of Mac High, Newby and Wascher built with proceeds from a 2007 bond measure.

“Each building has a different personality with specific needs,” said Williams, who recently worked with architects and a long-range planning committee to develop a list of facility needs and plans for fulfilling those needs.

Workers are doing a good job taking care of facility needs, Williams and Friedrich said. They take pride in their buildings.

But the staff is stretched thin.

When Friedrich joined the district in 2000, each elementary school had two night custodians during the school year; now there’s only one. There have been similar cuts in maintenance staff, he said, while at the same time the district has added facilities.

Having a small staff only increases the importance of performing regular maintenance, such as steaming the carpets.

“Keeping up with the cleaning extends the life of carpet,” Williams said. “The longer we can use it before we have to replace it, the better.”



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