It takes a lot of work to keep operations at a school the size of USM running smoothly. In a pandemic year, the work is amplified. Go behind the scenes to see how USM staff work diligently around the clock to keep campus clean and safe—both inside and outside—for students, faculty, and staff.
University School of Milwaukee’s grounds crew is responsible for maintaining the school’s 120-acre campus, which includes multiple athletic fields, three separate playgrounds, countless flower beds, and hundreds of square feet of manicured landscaping.
Added to their list of daily to-dos this academic year is spraying all of the playgrounds, athletic equipment, and goal posts with disinfectant. Each morning at about 7 a.m., a crew member wears a specialty, gas-powered backpack mister and sprays the playground equipment and tricycles. The backpack weighs upwards of 60 pounds when completely filled, and requires refilling at least once each morning to cover all of the equipment. While one person sprays the equipment, another carries a hand-held sprayer to disinfect all main door handles to the building.
For Grounds Supervisor Tim Schuh, the added workload is worth it to see children back on campus. “It was really sad last spring when the playgrounds and fields were closed,” said Schuh. “We’re happy to see them getting used again.”
USM employs a team of 17 men and women who work nearly around the clock to clean and apply disinfectant throughout the entire building and in the Polly and Henry Uihlein Sr. Ice Arena. The custodial staff use four Clorox® Total 360® machines to deliver Clorox solutions via an electrostatic sprayer, in addition to spraying and wiping surfaces by hand. Each of the school’s 65 bathrooms are cleaned and disinfected multiple times per day—sometimes up to five or six times. Five additional team members have been hired since the start of school to tackle the extra cleaning, including two individuals who focus solely on bathrooms.
In August, before the start of the school year, each teacher and staff member were given a supply of foaming hand sanitizer, Clorox disinfecting wipes, and isopropyl alcohol wipes for computers and phones. Thanks to Custodial Supervisor Lauro Robles, who placed a bulk order for those items before they became difficult to source, the school was well stocked with supplies in time for reopening.
There are roughly 105 students, spanning all grades, who utilize USM’s in-house buses for transportation to and from school each day. For those students and their parents, it is a vital service that is safe and reliable.
Claudia Fritz, associate director of auxiliary services, and her team of drivers, worked throughout the summer to ensure the buses would be up and running in September. In addition to adding a bus to an existing route, thereby reducing the number of riders on one bus, drivers learned how to effectively wear personal protective equipment and how to clean and disinfect their buses, which they do each morning and afternoon.
Each bus has been equipped with hand sanitizer, which students are asked to use any time they board, and each bus route features assigned seating for students, which is a new initiative that ensures riders maintain physical distancing and is vital if any contact tracing needs to occur.
USM owns and operates a fleet of 10 buses (all of which have seatbelts), with a small group of in-house drivers and one in-house mechanic. “Our drivers become so familiar with their riders, they know immediately if a student is not on their bus at the end of the day,” said Fritz. “If we need to hold a particular bus until we can track somebody down, we have the flexibility to do that.”
Summer is normally a busy time for the maintenance crew at USM—and this past summer was no exception. In addition to their annual maintenance tasks, the team was charged with preparing the head of school residence for Steve Hancock and his family, renovating the auxiliary programs office suite, and preparing classrooms for physically distanced learning. In order to maximize the square footage of each
classroom to safely accommodate in-person learning, teachers were asked to identify non-essential furniture in their rooms that could be removed. After the furniture was identified, it took a moving crew three days to remove it, filling five semis, three of which are currently stored off campus.
In addition to preparing classrooms, the team oversaw the installation of a new component of the school’s HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system, which uses negative and positive ions to filter out pathogens in the air. The system uses new filters, however, which need to be changed every month in every classroom—a significant amount of work. “This new system will benefit the school for years to come,” said Maintenance Supervisor Mike Schneider, “not just during the COVID-19 pandemic. The technology is so effective that many hospitals use it.”