From behind the scenes to the front line: Here’s how maintenance teams are keeping OC campuses healthy

It’s not just hand sanitizer, hand washing and social distancing that keep our local schools and workplaces safe.

A group of unsung heroes, better known as facilities, maintenance and operations staff, are tasked with ensuring the approximately 616 public schools in Orange County – plus special schools, private schools, and administrative and service buildings – are clean and safe.

These employees, from custodians to maintenance technicians, often do their work when no one else is around to see it. And while ensuring safety through sanitation is a large part of the job, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the day-to-day duties of facilities, maintenance and custodial teams to change in ways few think about.

\Ralph Figueroa
OCDE Facilities, Planning, Maintenance and Operations Manager Ralph Figueroa.

Let’s start with our own OCDE team.

The OCDE Facilities, Planning, Maintenance and Operations unit is made up of 23 employees who provide facility planning, project management, and maintenance and operations support for spaces owned or occupied by OCDE. These include special schools, alternative education classrooms and offices at more than 76 sites throughout Orange County.

According to Manager Ralph Figueroa, OCDE’s facilities team has taken a proactive approach to adapt to new circumstances set by the pandemic. This includes changing cleaning protocols, working with site management on social distancing and health guidelines, and making sure employees have access to protective equipment.

“We still clean thoroughly from top to bottom,” Figueroa said, “but during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are focusing on a more aggressive and frequent process of disinfecting touchpoints like door handles, door jambs, light switches, counter tops and restroom fixtures.”

“At our central OCDE office, we implemented high-touch disinfecting every hour for staff members who are in the office providing support to our 27 school districts and private schools,” he said.

Figueroa says that in addition to the department’s daily duties, the team also helped local schools with preparations for re-opening. With the assistance of local districts, the team packaged, distributed, and in some cases delivered PPE supplies.

OCDE Facilities Maintenance Team
The OCDE Facilities team packaged, distributed, and delivered personal protective equipment supplies to districts and schools across the county.

“In preparation for the return of in-class instruction, we have installed hand sanitizing units, stand-alone HEPA air purifiers in classrooms, Plexiglas on high traffic areas and safety signage,” said Figueroa.

“All of this could not have been accomplished without the support from our facilities team. The team members – our amazing office staff, facility services assistants, technicians and custodians – are amazing,” he continued.

So it’s pretty evident that while facilities and maintenance teams are responsible for keeping schools and buildings clean, the job transcends buffing floors, emptying trash cans and wiping down doors.

To gain a better understanding of the vital role facilities and maintenance teams are playing during the pandemic, we reached out to a few local school districts. Here is a snapshot of what they had to say about their hardworking teams.

Anaheim Union High School District

“In response to COVID-19, the Anaheim Union High School District Maintenance and Operations team has purchased several disinfecting machines for every school and custodial caddies to ensure restrooms are cleaned and disinfected during the day. The team has been working days, nights and weekends to ensure desks, high traffic areas, bathrooms, school buses, handrails, doors and more are cleaned and disinfected multiple times throughout the day. Additionally a team is deployed each night to deep clean all school sites.”

Brea Olinda Unified School District

“Since the March shutdown, our MOT department has not missed a beat. From our custodial and maintenance crews, to our transportation and grounds team members, the men and women of BOUSD continue to exemplify excellence by supporting our teaching and site staff. Together they have supported each other and learned new languages – like PPE – new technology, new processes, and new ways of being ‘socially distant.’ Whether virtually or in-person, our school community could not be prouder of the enormous, unpredicted efforts they have undertaken to get our facilities up and running with the challenges faced before us.”

Cypress School District

“In the Cypress School District, capes aren’t necessary for our superheroes in Maintenance/Operations, Transportation, and Technology. Our team has always worked tirelessly to support schools and student success, and this is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the summer months, our custodial and maintenance crews sanitized classrooms, installed new air filters, assembled countless desk shields and set up kiosks on each of our school campuses for daily student temperature screenings. Our technology staff deployed over 2,200 computer devices to support student engagement in distance learning. To accommodate physical distancing on school busses, our transportation staff redesigned district bus schedules, adding multiple routes to ensure an added layer of safety and protection for students riding to and from school each day. Our team’s amazing superpowers enabled us to welcome students back to the classroom for in-person instruction.”

Fullerton School District

“With all the new mandates in place, pressure is on for teachers to adjust to new formats, but behind the scenes, Maintenance and Operations are tasked with checking the boxes to make sure all 20 school sites, the district office and nutrition services are meeting, or exceeding, health and safety standards. This hard-working group is researching, receiving, sorting and transporting thousands of supplies being purchased for staff, students and sites. Working without a lot of fanfare and attention, Fullerton School District’s Maintenance and Operations team are quietly making sure that tasks such as replacing the MERV 13 air filters every few months; measuring and installing all of the social distancing stickers and signage; taking inventory and measuring spaces to ensure desks are at least six feet apart and that excess furniture is removed and stored; cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing all touched surfaces multiple times a day; installing Plexiglass; increasing hand washing stations; replacing hand dryers/soap dispensers; and installing and monitoring large tents on all campuses.”

Placentia Yorba Linda Unified School District

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dedicated employees in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District Maintenance and Facilities Department have spent countless hours planning and implementing deliberate safety measures at all school sites and offices. The team’s efforts have included the installation of permanent hand washing stations, hand sanitizing units, desk shields for all students and teachers, stand-alone HEPA air purifiers for every classroom, safety signage district-wide, MERV 13 filters in all air conditioning units, and additional lunch tables and hydration stations with bottle fillers, just to name a few. They have also developed new cleaning and disinfecting protocols for classrooms, office spaces, buses, cafeterias and more. Their efforts for the past seven months have been squarely focused on one common goal: creating a healthy and safe environment for students and staff in PYLUSD.”