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A magazine names it the "greenest" in the nation, and the custodial staff gets much of the credit.
By PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE, Times Correspondent
Published January 24, 2008
[Lance Aram Rothstein | Times]
When it comes to respecting the environment, no other school district in the United States loves the Earth more than the Hernando County School District.
So says American School & University magazine, which in December declared Hernando the "greenest" school district in the country. The magazine honored Hernando with the Green Cleaning Networks' inaugural Green Cleaning Award for schools and universities.
The district is thrilled with the recognition.
"I thought we would just be recognized for a small portion of what we were about," said Sean Arnold, maintenance and custodial supervisor for the Hernando County School District, "and then we ended up winning the grand award, which was excellent."
Arnold has been with the district since July 2005 and has been a green whirlwind since. "I'm really proud of his efforts," said director of maintenance Ken Hill. "Sean has been invaluable. We're getting calls from everybody. It's a top award."
Arnold is reluctant to take credit for the honor, instead applauding the efforts of the district's more than 200 custodians who do the everyday work.
"I feel great for the custodians, because I really want them to feel good about what they do," he said. "They really are the people behind the scenes who make the big difference."
The efforts to make the district environmentally responsible began, Hill said, with a performance contract initiated by the School Board 12 years ago for energy savings.
"It all started back then and he's taken our custodial department to the next level. I rely on him and lean on him in looking to the future," Hill said.
The custodial department has made many changes with many more in the works. "We are bringing every property on board with a recycling program to recycle cardboard, paper, plastic, steel cans and aluminum cans," Arnold said. "We hope that our trash is reduced by at least 50 percent due to recycling instead of dumping."
Another addressed area is chemicals. "We have replaced 90 percent of our custodial chemicals in our warehouse over the last couple of years with green chemicals," Arnold said. "Our everyday chemicals are Green Seal Certified. We hope to be 100 percent by the end of the year."
The cloths and mops the custodians use are also coming into the green age. The custodians have replaced cotton cleaning cloths with those made of a microfiber material that has more surface area and can pick up more dust and dirt. The microfiber cleaning cloths cost more initially, but last longer.
"Their durability rating being over 500 washes per microfiber rag," Arnold said. "In comparison, we are lucky to get 10 to 20 washes out of a cotton rag."
Consumable paper products are also an environmental issue. The district is using up its stock of toilet tissue and paper towels, but intends to move toward 100 percent Green Seal Certified products soon.
Arnold hopes to pilot a new mop in one of the schools this year. He pointed out that, to a custodian, switching to a new mop is a significant change. It could be compared to moving a reporter from a typewriter to a computer.
"One mop can clean a whole classroom," he said. "You're not reintroducing the mop into dirty water. They are washable and reusable and much more user friendly." The life span of the new mops would be 500 to 1,500 uses, much longer than cotton mops.
"I have to give credit to the custodians. They've really worked hard at making changes and being honest with themselves that this is for the best," Arnold said.
Expensive heavy duty cleaning equipment will be more slowly replaced. "When an old machine is no longer workable, we will replace it with one that falls into a category that reduces contaminants and has a low impact on the environment," Arnold said.
One of these new machines is in use at Nature Coast Technical High School. It is a combination vacuum, carpet cleaner and pile lifter.
Saving energy and water are part of the green package, too.
"Much of the district has motion sensors for classroom lights as well as sensors in other parts of the buildings" Arnold said. "Our flush valves are high efficiency for water conservation. Our maintenance director has directed that all lights in parking lots and the exterior of buildings be turned off over night."
The custodians are not thrown blindly into all these innovations. There are training materials and "all new custodians take 40 hours worth of training on chemicals, policies and procedures," Arnold said. "We also provide an additional 40 hours worth of training for those custodians interested in higher positions within the custodial department."
Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified January 23, 2008, 20:49:23]