Feature: Talking to Wellesley Custodial Services Manager Michael Santangelo

Creating an environmentally-friendly lifestyle can oftentimes be kick-started by the building of a new, “green” infrastructure, like the new Wellesley High School, officially completed in February 2012.  But, as Wellesley’s Facilities Maintenance Department (FMD)’s Custodial Service Manager Michael Santangelo suggests, sustaining this “green” environment is dependent on the tools and techniques used by the Town’s own maintenance team.

Having joined the FMD on October 7, Custodial Service Manager Michael Santangelo has a keen eye for areas where Wellesley’s green-shirted custodians can “green” their practices.  Santangelo has led a rich career, having worked for the Walt Disney World Company and served the City of Worcester for two years.  Having attended many trade shows and been exposed to a variety of tools and techniques, Santangelo brings fresh insight to Wellesley’s custodial services.

Currently, the FMD engages in a variety of sustainable practices when it comes to maintaining cleanliness in the Town’s buildings, including the schools.  Many chemical cleaners used by custodians in town are peroxide-based, instead of more environmentally-harmful bleach alternatives.  The schools have also invested in more walk-off mats placed near doorways in order to minimize air and floor contamination from dirt particles stuck to footwear throughout the building.  Additionally, custodians use a zinc-based stripper when cleaning floors, eliminating the use of unhealthy and environmentally-unfriendly pneumonia-based solutions.

Very noticeable tools that custodians use are backpack vacuums, which serve as an alternative to the traditional dust mops.  According to Santangelo, these alternatives prevent contaminants from reentering the air after being picked up, as would happen when a user shakes out a mop.  Santangelo hopes to upgrade the vacuums to second generation models in the near future, which have ergonomically-imporoved double heaper filtration systems and a more comfortable carrying experience.

Recently, the FMD also started a program with Wellesley’s Recycling and Disposal Facility (RDF) to coordinate cardboard recycling from the schools.  This program will focus on the separation of large cardboard boxes and similar items to be transported to the RDF in town.  All other waste and recycling is currently managed by Wellesley’s contracted waste management company, EL Harvey.

Santangelo also looks forward to working with WPS’ Food Services to accommodate a commercial food waste ban proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), but has yet to determine how his department will be working to help with food recycling.

When it comes to the large upfront cost of many of these sustainable installations and practices, Santangelo says that the expense just an initial outlay.  “Over time, as you use less volatile chemicals and such, everything’s much greener and saves on a potentially larger environmental cleanup cost down the road,” said Santangelo. “Over the long haul, it also makes the person doing the cleaning more efficient, thus generating a labor savings.”  He also cites some of the chemicals the FMD uses for cleaning as cost-saving mechanisms, saying they minimize running expenses by requiring less water to function.

According to Santangelo, the biggest obstacle in further “green”-ing school buildings is getting everyone to see the benefit in sustainable practices like recycling.  “Some students are very passionate about [going green], as well as some parents and PTOs [Parent Teacher Organizations],” said Santangelo. “But in order to move forward, everyone needs to be on the same page.”

(Matthew Hornung)

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