Caring for our campuses, together

Addressing the level of cleanliness on our campuses, what led us here and what we can do to keep our spaces clean and healthy.

Campus In Winter

Winter is always a messy time on campus. Once the snow flies and the freeze-thaw cycle begins, cleaning staff work with increased frequency to keep entrances to buildings clean. But have you noticed the standard for cleanliness across our campuses has changed as a whole? I have. In fact, I’ve been expecting it since 2020.

To explain, I’ll need to give you some background about cleaning on campus. The University of Alberta, along with many colleges and universities, manages and monitors our cleaning programs by following a level of five cleaning standards set by APPA, formerly known as the Association of Physical Plant Administrators.

In 2019, in response to an institution-wide imperative to reduce costs, the university realigned its cleaning standards from APPA level 3 to level 4.

This change was planned prior to the COVID pandemic and the reduction in cleaning frequency was communicated and went ahead as scheduled on April 1, 2020, save for an increased cleaning of circulation areas for public health considerations.

Then, in 2021, when additional cost reductions were needed, the painful decision to outsource most of the remaining custodial services to a completely contracted model was made.

Having achieved cost reductions exceeding $5 million has come at a different cost. With the move to virtual work and learning shortly before the change was implemented, the differences were not apparent until our campuses filled up with the return of in-person activities in fall 2022. Less frequent cleaning has meant that a lot of areas don't look like people would remember them prior to 2020.

We want to be proud of our learning and working environment, and cleanliness is a big part of that for students, faculty, staff and cleaning staff alike. Our contracted cleaning staff take a lot of pride in their work and are meeting the cleaning targets we have set for them within our budget. Based on the resources available for cleaning, these reduced standards are not an option, they are a necessity.

Despite the challenges, there are things we can all do to collectively maintain a clean and healthy campus environment. Our current cleaning standards require faculty and staff to complete actions related to employee area cleanliness and follow guidelines related to waste management, recycling and office cleanliness.

Because cleaning staff have limited time to complete tasks, campus community participation in activities like properly sorting waste, emptying workstation trash bins into a central location and breaking down cardboard recycling can help them focus on other tasks.

Keeping shared spaces tidy, ensuring toilet paper is the only paper product you flush down the toilet, and using boot cleaners and entry mats at building entrances are other ways faculty and staff can do their part.

These responsibilities are outlined on the Campus Cleaning Standards and Schedule, along with how to submit general and urgent maintenance requests. Knowing the campus cleaning standards and schedule and how to submit maintenance requests is an important part of keeping campus clean and healthy and accurate reporting is one of the best mechanisms we have to address concerns.

As One University, creating a clean and healthy campus environment is everyone’s responsibility. While our community’s concerns about cleanliness are understandable, current cleaning standards will need to be maintained until the budget allows for an increase. In the interim, a true community effort will be required. I’ve noticed that because we are all experiencing similar challenges, there is a feeling that we are all in this together. Thank you for taking pride in our spaces and doing your part to support a clean and vibrant environment across all campuses.

About John

John Benson is the Director, Facility Services, Asset Management and Operations, Facilities & Operations.