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Listen to Episode 113

Josh talks with Keith Watkins, Assistant Director of Facilities for City School District of New Rochelle in NY, about COVID-19 protocols when it comes to products and equipment they use to clean, putting their plans into practice and general tips for facilities departments. 

Show Notes: 

Show Script:

Josh Peach  
Welcome to the Operate Intelligently Podcast, the podcast for all things operations.

Hello, Operate Intelligently listeners. This is your host, Joshua Peach and I am really excited here on a Sunday afternoon to have a great friend of mine. And one of the most knowledgeable folks and maintenance and operations, especially in public K-12 schools, Keith Watkins. Keith is from New Rochelle, New York and welcome first and foremost. Thanks for taking the time to join me, spur of the moment type thing.

Keith Watkins  
Thanks, Josh. I appreciate the invite and the hope that our conversation is beneficial.

Josh Peach  
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this time right now that we're in, I woke up this morning. I got on LinkedIn, did my quick scan and saw that you had put some posts on about some of the equipment that you're using in the district. For those that are listening that don't know this, currently New York has 50% of the total coronavirus positive test cases that's roughly I think around 16,000. And Keith if my numbers are off and you get, you're closer to the ground on it, let me know. But I think you guys got around 16,000 positive cases, and many of them are in your neck of the woods.

Keith Watkins  
Correct. I don't have the exact number, it changes daily. As you can imagine, I'm on multiple email threads from different senators and government resources. The numbers are baffling and growing exponentially.

Josh Peach  
So let's talk about Keith's life a couple weeks ago, right. Before all this stuff was headline news, probably more long lines about a month ago. When did all the talk and some of the concern and some of the trickle down to things that you should start to consider, when did that really start?

Keith Watkins  
You know, I would say this has happened really very fast. And, you know, fortunately for us and many others, you know, in New Rochelle specifically, we had a really robust plan in place when all this started hit the airwaves and there was raised awareness and then raised concern and then, you know, panic started to creep in. But yeah, you know, about three weeks ago, you know, we were already supplying so we have over 11,000 students, 11 school buildings, a city hall, about 1.5 million square feet, a facility staff of about 107. We were already supplying alcohol free hand sanitizer, TB wipes, which have a Corona claim. We already had this in place. We were cleaning nightly and then Tuesdays and Thursdays we were cleaning with our protectus electrostatic applicators and our pure tabs who we know we purchased those through Hilliard, great resource, wonderful supporter business partner, as as we have many. So we were already doing something. And then as this started to creep up, we switched that from Tuesday, Thursday to Monday, Wednesday, Friday, we added one extra night. And we started to preach and encourage the hand washing, hand washing, hand washing, and we just kind of stayed ahead of it because we already had a really good robust program in place ahead of this.

Josh Peach  
Yeah. That's great. The electrostatic machines, Ken Wertz, who you and I both know and are friends with. He brought that up. How long have you been using those machines? Because apparently, those are impossible to find. And lots of schools don't have that as a resource or a tool. How long have you been using them and what do they do?

Keith Watkins  
Yeah, so we've been using the Pro-Texas electrostatic sprayers for about the better part of a year and a half. We have the handheld applicators and we also have multiple of the backpack units. We bought into this program. You know, we're trying to take out the human error. Everybody works differently. Everyone does things differently. So about a year and a half ago, we bought the pure tabs hypochlorous product, very safe, kind of like pool water. One tab for the handheld, two tabs for the backpacks, very easy to train, you got to keep it really simple. We had multiple training sessions. But about the better part of a year and a half, we've had these and what they do is if you just spray with a regular spray bottle at something, you hit the front. Kind of like if you use your hand as an example and you spray the front of your hand material droplets, whatever you want to call it, the atomized solution would blow past the front of your hand and the back of your hand would get hit sparingly. The electrostatic feature charges the chemical being sprayed and it actually makes it wrap around every object so it really eliminates a lot of the human error.

Josh Peach  
Wow, Kenny was explaining it to me and it just sounds like a really incredible piece of equipment. What does something like that go for and how many do you have? Like you got 11,000 students, 1.5 million square feet, how many buildings was that again?

Keith Watkins  
We have 11 school buildings where kids attend. And we have our city hall where our administrative offices are.

Josh Peach  
So how many of these pieces of equipment do you have to cover that space? And how long does it take to do an application?

Keith Watkins  
So, currently in New Rochelle, I'm in charge of custodial operations. I have 87 full-time custodians and I have approximately 40 hourly staff that fill in when people call in sick. We do have some fixed hourly's that get five hours a day. So we invest in New Rochelle, a great support from our upper administration in our business office. Saw the benefit of this, saw the safety aspect. We bought 87 of these so we assigned one to every custodian, and then we also purchased six of the backpack units for our high school, which is the second-largest high school in New York State has just under 530,000 square feet with 3,400 students. So and then our two middle schools, one is 190,000 square feet. One is 160. We bought the backpack units for the weight rooms, the auditoriums, the larger group instruction areas so we could work through these areas in a much more efficient way.

Josh Peach  
Well, you guys, I mean, you progressive and doing some really cool stuff there. Congratulations. First and foremost, you guys have figured out a way to present the case to get people to support you. I'm talking about administrative staff buying into and supporting you, is huge. Now we're in this, you know, you're three weeks in. Everything that I'm seeing and hearing in the hundreds of folks that I'm talking to, clients and nonclients that are in maintenance and operations, especially in education. There doesn't seem to be a set, consistent plan that says, hey, when this happens, do this, this, this and this. There's not a set cleaning schedule. Every district is different. Every district for the most part, from what I'm understanding is still serving breakfast and lunch, the free and reduced news. Right? So how do you navigate through all of that to determine what's best and 1.5 million square feet, the number of touchpoints that you have to go over over and over again? Do you lock in the schools down completely? What's open, what's not open? You know, what's that? What's that look like for you guys?

Keith Watkins  
So, you know, I'd be remiss if I didn't say, you know, our superintendent, and it's out there. It's known to the community, she's tested positive for the virus. We're all embracing the work from home mentality, because that's what we have to do. And we're following all the guidances and everything. So you know, I'm working from home until next Thursday, our buildings are open to custodians, maintenance staff, grounds folks, our facilities staff, I've said this, this is my sixth school district. I'm on my 30th year in public schools for New York State facility staff. And when I do a presentation, I typically have this slide up and then the middle is a circle with facilities staff in it. And around it is athletics, special education, curriculum, food service, you name it, facilities touches every other department. And honestly, you know, two departments may not touch each other the entire year. But facilities is that glue that holds it all together and I have to say, you know, our staff in New Rochelle, we're still bringing out about, my numbers maybe a little bit because it changes, but we're doing 3000 breakfasts and lunches daily. We have district distribution points. We're practicing social distancing, we have masks and gloves and hand sanitizer that is available, we were lucky enough to get some of the governor's product. In the future, I'd like them to reach out and ask for some quality control to people who might know a little more about this than some others. But it's a little too strong and the fragrance are strong but again, we are very appreciative that we got some of that because we are utilizing it at all of our food distribution points. I just would like to say our facilities folks are delivering Chromebooks, they're delivering meals, they're assisting with deliveries. They're holding it all together. So what at our schools do answer your question, Josh. I think you know me and I just can't sit with my hands under my lap and wait for someone to give me unguided guidance, so to say in something like this. I'd rather be doing something even if it's not exactly correct or not, you know, proven to all aspects of infinity. We have a dedication and a responsibility to our students and our staff. So, the insanity to me is the fact that everyone's doing this quote, unquote, deep clean or extra cleaning, or and then they're disinfecting, and then and then they're locking their doors. Okay, that's great, should have been doing that anyways. So my point is, is now what the first student, first staff member, first committee member that comes in and they sneeze or they cough, you want to see people clear out around you now? Sneeze or cough and you've got about a 75 foot radius around you. So you know what we're doing, we've done some research, again with the half program from Hilliard, and all those things they supply. We're using the Orbio cleaning chemicals through Sterling. I've got a lot of great smart, supportive business partners. But one of the latest things we're using, it's a product called BioProtect. It's a coating that you apply after you clean, after you disinfect, and it carries a 90 day kill claim for germs, bacteria and viruses. They're currently testing it against COVID. And we'll have some answers back within probably like three weeks, but it's already proven against other things for the common cold and other things that we know are bad for people and can live on the surface. And with the BioProtect coating, we're also using their other products. It's called the Sanders filter in all of our HVAC systems. So now we're treating the surfaces and we're treating the air. So New Rochelle is, whatever, whether you want to call it cutting edge or not, we're getting prepared. And we're getting our buildings ready. So if and when we get the okay to open our doors, we're going to have another plan B in place that's going to help protect our students, our staff, our community, because they deserve it. And you know, as a director of facilities, we need to be thinking outside the box right now, because we're in different times, and just cleaning and disinfecting really isn't going to cut it. Because again, as soon as those doors open, it's all going to be expected to be done again. And that's just plain insanity.

Josh Peach  
Yeah, and you just touched on something. And, you know, I mentioned this in a different podcast that, you know, my mindset when all of this stuff happened. I, you know, I've been in this industry not quite as long as you, about 25 years. And when all this happened, especially in education environments, I was like, now the schools are closed, they're going to go in and clean it, and then they're going to be able to tackle PM projects and tasks that you'd normally do over the summer. And first of all, that's not the case. You can't just have anybody in there, you probably have some vendor. You can't just let vendors come in and do the work that you contracted out. And ideally, you'd be doing those filter changes and all those things. But you're restricted from doing a lot of that stuff. Are you seeing a lot of that you're feeling that same similar environment where that's not what you guys can be focusing on with everybody out in your district?

Keith Watkins  
Well, I'll throw a couple of plugs out there. I'm a past president of the New York State School Facilities Association with 18 chapters in New York state with over 700 members. I'm currently the president of the National School Plant Management Association with currently 17 states in attendance with three or four knocking on our door trying to become members, you know, to say that we're not networked and we're hearing all these same questions not only in your state, but across the state would be a lie. So everyone that I'm seeing, especially down in the Westchester area where New Rochelle is, a lot of folks are taking, they're all taking different approaches. They have a skeleton crew in, thy're doing building checks. We are practicing social distancing. We're working in small groups. We are we do have our facility staff deemed essential. A lot of you could see it in the government's executive order that he shared, you know, cleaners, custodians, maintenance. Those people are listed as essential personnel, thank God. We're still continuing to get our buildings ready for if and when you know there's a date shared to open our doors. We know it's going to be a little while. We have a lot of folks that went and have been tested. Once you get tested here, there's actually a drive thru testing facility here in New Rochelle. You're kind of quarantined for three days until you get your results. Staff are sharing their results. If they're negative, they're coming back to work. It's a peace of mind. But I am noticing everyone's doing things differently. And I think we have to kind of embrace this is going to be the norm for a little while. But we also have to as facilities directors be looking for those safeguards, and those things that are going to make our students, staff and community feel safe for when they do step back into our buildings. And we should be doing our homework, and it is our job, and that is our responsibility.

Josh Peach  
Yeah. And that's, I'm glad you did those plugs because I was going to plug for you. So you saved me one of my jobs. And we're going to touch on that on the end, make sure that people know how to get ahold of you guys and stay in the know and compare notes. One thing that you said that's interesting was the filters. You know, it's one thing to wipe the area down and get it clean. It's another thing to wipe the area down for health. And if there's something that's often overlooked in these situations, which is healthy air. Tell me a little bit about that filter approaches you have what is that? What are those filters do that that might be different from just putting a three M standard filter in there and what are you finding on that?

Keith Watkins  
Yeah, so I started I've been been in New Rochelle almost three years, and being a big indoor air quality buff, you know, New Rochelle's fortunate enough where they have central VAC systems. And all their buildings can't say they've been maintained properly but they are now they're up and running. So we're trying to get rid of the dust mopping. Because when you dust mop, you know 62% of the dirt, you actually collect 38% goes airborne. Those are ISSA standards, you know, normal industry standards. You can find all this stuff out with formatting and why, you know, doormats can collect 80-85% of all the dirt you bring into a building, so folks who picked them up in the summer, don't do that leave them down year round, you still have indoor air quality issues to worry about year round. But we have backpack vacuum central vac so we've tried to implement a vacuuming where you collect it and remove instead of push it around mentality. We've done really good. We have some some ground to gain yet but these filters again, I am not the expert on these filters and this product just yet. I've done my homework for a couple of weeks now craft coursing it. I like what I see, we're going to be able to have some results soon. We're applying this coating in all of our buildings on all surfaces. We contract our buses out, but we will be looking to hit our fleet vehicles. It can be on any porous, non-porous surface. But the filters, I believe it's .3 sub micron. So all the germs and bacteria that are in the air that are associated with a lot of issues we're dealing with would be captured and removed in that filter. Because we do know obviously, it's airborne and surface related. So treating the air and the surfaces just make sense. And again, just to clean and disinfect, that's great. But you've done all that work to do what? To just do it all over again. So again, people can reach out to me, they have for me in the last five days, my phone and email have been blowing up about what we're doing and the products we're using. Common sense, I would say reach out to your business partners, use them as resources, pick their brains. It's you know, I've learned that it's what you learn after you know it all that's most important. So even after 30 years, I'm still learning man, I would have never thought we'd be in this situation.

Josh Peach  
Yeah. And you're in you're doing a great job and it's, you know, I've seen you speak numerous times. I've followed you along and your associations, and you're doing your homework all the time, like you say, it's the things you know, things you learn after, you know, know it all. You're constantly learning and sharing. So, you know, how's it good way for folks to start to network with you and the groups that you're a part of?

Keith Watkins  
Well, it's a New York State School Facility Association, real simple, nyssfa.com and then you've got the National School Plant Management Association, nspma.com. All all great, professional associations. The networking is unbelievable. Again, you can reach out to me, kwatkins@nredlearn.org that's nredlearn.org kwatkins. I'm on LinkedIn trying to you know be a part of the solution. I think what we have to watch is everybody's negativity and platform on these things. You know, I'm not a Facebook spokesperson for anyone, but someone's got a product that I think is going to work for me and my facilities and my students that have been in the community. I'm going to use it. And, you know, the technology that's out there is amazing. We've got some great reliable business partners, and they've got some great products and some great resources. So I utilize mine all I can.

Josh Peach  
That's great. And Keith, I gotta tell you, I'm, you know, listening to you, you guys are literally in the epicenter, all this stuff in the United States/ Most folks that would be in that position would probably go down in a hole and hide for a while and not have the optimism and the excitement and the drive that you got you and your team have, and I say your team because I know a number of your team members and I know and I don't just expect I know, their mindset is similar to yours, which is let's get out there. Let's get this thing done. And let's get the buildings back open again for our students. And you know, when you said about being essential, one of the things that's often overlooked that I mean, I just can't tell you how appreciative I am to have the opportunity to work with professionals, you and your team, because you are essential, you're essential to every aspect of what goes on in a district. And the thing that you've talked that you mentioned that you just said was that they're out delivering meals, like they're taking care of these kids that wouldn't have food otherwise, while they're taking care of making sure that the buildings are taken care of. And all these other pieces and bits, so many moving parts, and I am so appreciative for everything you guys are doing. Keep doing what you're doing, hope everything goes smoothly with everybody in your area. So hopefully we get past this sooner than later we get back to life as usual. Get these kids back into an environment that they can can continue to learn together and grow together. Dudes always got your back, my friend we're here and appreciate you. I mean literally, you put a post this morning, on a Sunday morning and I reached out to you within four minutes you're responding let's do this. So I can't thank you for making yourself available here on a Sunday afternoon to do this.

Keith Watkins  
Well, I'd be remiss if I if I didn't include Dude Solutions. I wish those vendors and business partners who are very supportive so we'll just leave it at that I won't make you blush. Appreciate your friendship more than anything, my friend.

Josh Peach  
You too. We will be seeing each other sooner than later when all this stuff blows over and keep doing what you're doing.

Keith Watkins  
Thank you. Thank you. Bye Bye.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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