school age children wearing masks in class

IAQ, Labor Shortage Challenges Public Perception on School Facilities Managers

To address IAQ, security and staffing among many issues, managers employ strategies to ensure facility performance and student success.

By Mackenna Moralez, Associate Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: The Vital Role of Facilities Managers in K-12 School OperationsPt. 2: This Page

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, public perception has changed on IAQ. A recent study by R-Zero found that more Americans are worried about the health implications from poor IAQ and have noticed multiple physical and mental health effects of being indoors for extended periods of time. The report also found that 68 percent of respondents were concerned about the spread of infection within schools.  

Managers have long known about the impact of poor IAQ on learning conditions, but the pandemic made it a higher priority for teachers, parents and the general public. The challenge for managers is to build trust with school staff and the surrounding community. One proven strategy is to openly communicate before misinformation spreads about IAQ, facility cleanliness and physical workspaces.  

“It was important to explain to our staff that our facility managers have always been aware of the importance of air quality and our classroom environments, and it was important to clear up any assumptions that this was a new concept to your facility managers,” Blakey says. “However, we saw the need to communicate more and publicly talk about our work in facilities more than we had in the past. The importance of funding our facilities is on the forefront of the priorities due to the effects of the pandemic, and we are able to address unmet needs we were unable to in the past, such as increased air quality and upgrading health standards for our facilities.” 

The recent Canadian wildfires that lowered New York City’s air quality are one example of evolving IAQ challenges facing managers. Schools that were still in session had to answer emails and phone calls from concerned parents about air quality in the schools.  

“School buildings are typically going to be a safer place for students and staff to be in when we have things like the Canadian wildfires,” says Watkins, whose district is about 20 minutes from New York City. “The filters we have in place take out about 75 percent of that (smoke) particulate matter. Between our filtration and our air purification system, anything that got through our filters was being continuously eradicated with our indoor air purification system.”  

Labor concerns 

Amid all these ongoing challenges, managers also must deal with ongoing labor shortages. Not only are front-line technicians hard to find, but a wave of retirements is also expected to affect the industry in the near future. The resulting loss of institutional knowledge can have a detrimental effect on department operations. Even with competitive job incentives, districts are still struggling to recruit and retain new technicians.  

“If I can get someone to come talk to me about what it means to work for a school facility, I will go through all the great things that we offer,” Petit says. “We offer a fair living wage, 11 paid holidays a year, vacation, sick leave and a fantastic retirement system. When I get a chance to present that whole package, people are usually blown away by all that we have to offer. You don’t have to worry about your school district typically going out of business or moving overseas. There is a certain amount of job security. You can be home every night in your bed after working for us.” 

Given the technician shortage, many districts have had to contract out maintenance work, which can raise costs and does not ensure the quality of the learning space. Students who do not have suitable learning spaces, clean and safe classrooms, food, and security are less likely to succeed in school. 

“We instill in our employees that their work matters on a day-to-day basis in the lives of children,” Blakey says. “We talk a lot about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and instill in our employees the importance of us working together to address physiological and safety needs for our students. The work in facilities is academic work because we are providing the base, the environment for our children to be successful in a classroom. 

“I love that I am able to work with some of the hardest working individuals who are creative in solving problems, willing to do whatever it takes to fix an issue and are committed to making sure every child is in an appropriate learning environment, in every classroom, every day.” 

K-12 facility managers know that despite the many challenges they face daily, their top priority is the students. They take care of kids every day, and their efforts make a difference in the students’ lives.   

“We work for the students,” Watkins says. “I don’t care how you break it down, but I can’t think of a better boss. I can’t think of a better person to report to with a smile and put that blue vest on for. I could tell you a story at every school district I worked at where I connected with an individual and had a positive impact on their life. I still get excited to do that on a daily basis. I love what I do and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.” 

Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor for the facilities market. 

Continue Reading: Education Facilities

The Vital Role of Facilities Managers in K-12 School Operations

IAQ, Labor Shortage Challenges Public Perception on School Facilities Managers

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  posted on 7/25/2023   Article Use Policy

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