During the day, when students and teachers are in the classrooms at Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District, there is a great deal going on behind the scenes.
Director of Facilities George Hula and his team of 14 staff members constantly disinfect, maintain, repair, sanitize and check on equipment, ensuring everything runs smoothly and that the three schools are in optimal shape for being open safely during a pandemic.
In previous years the facilities department focused mostly on keeping the buildings clean and in good repair. This year, however, the department has taken additional steps to ensure that the environment is as safe as possible during the pandemic with added cleaning and disinfection.
One of the changes has been implementing state-of-the-art air filtration equipment.
“The focus this year is air quality and filtration,” said John Brucato, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations. “We have always taken this seriously but we are really honing in on the level of filtration in our buildings. We upgraded a lot of our filters and our HVAC system.”
Prior to the pandemic, the air filtration system would only run during the times the school was open, but now it runs nonstop, including on weekends.
“This creates challenges in terms of maintenance on the equipment and causes more wear and tear. It also uses more electricity,” Mr. Brucato said.
For his part, Mr. Hula said, “I am on the roof a few times per week checking exhaust fans and making sure everything is working.”
Another change has been hiring additional cleaning staff during the daytime.
“We still have a cleaning crew that comes in every night as we did before, but we also have additional cleaners that clean throughout the day. They focus more on high-use areas, such as counters, door handles and lavatories,” Mr. Brucato said. “We have also added new cleaning logs in every occupied space so that at any point people can see when the room was last cleaned,” he added.
“We have always kept our classrooms and buildings clean, but this year we have stepped up our game,” Mr. Hula said.
Increased cleaning and disinfection has also meant increased costs for items such as personal protective equipment, wipes, sprays and paper towels.
“It was tough getting supplies at first, especially gloves. The market was tight, but that has eased up,” Mr. Hula said. “Oddly enough, we use less tissue paper now. No one is getting colds anymore.”
Any classroom that has a COVID-positive case, or even a potential case, gets disinfected with an electrostatic sprayer, which kills airborne bacteria, and staff and students are quarantined.
“We have proven to a lot of people that we’re still in business here. We are still functioning. Schools are one of the safest places to be. Our main focus is to keep the students in the buildings for their social development,” Mr. Hula said.
“We have gone above and beyond in terms of ensuring the safety of our students and staff,” Mr. Brucato said.
Mr. Brucato admits it has been a challenge when it came to allocating funds and some cuts had to be made.
“We were originally planning on transitioning our furniture to movable furniture and we were also going to replace one of our pickup trucks,” he said. “Those expenses are on hold for now. Luckily, we were able to increase staff and bus monitors and we have not had to reduce any kind of programming. It was a shift in priorities and is in line with keeping everyone safe and keeping the district open.”
Mr. Hula said “It has been a huge team effort. We need the people doing the work on the ground, we need the finance, the technology team and the school board. Everyone comes together and we are always evaluating what we can do better.”
As it is too early to project what will happen in the next school year, the district is planning to keep the additional staff and sanitizing expenditures until at least January of 2022.
“That may change, it is too early to say,” Mr. Brucato said. “We will have to see how it goes with the vaccinations but even if we reach herd immunity, I don’t know that we can flip the switch – it may be gradual. It’s anyone’s guess at this point. I remain cautiously optimistic,” he added.