After years of trying to operate more environmentally friendly schools in Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, both Brook Park Elementary School and S.E. Gross Middle School have received the Platinum Green Cleaning Award by the Schools in Illinois Public Cooperative (SIPC) and SupplyWorks, a facility maintenance company. 

Since 2003, the SIPC and SupplyWorks have together provided customized training program through their “in-Site education program” to custodians and administrators in order to help school districts follow best practices for health and safety measures, implement eco-friendly cleaning methods and educate themselves on more efficient cleaning methods. 

The green cleaning award is conferred every October to a specific school district’s board of education to recognize the excellence of these efforts. 

While the state of Illinois mandated in 2007 that all public school districts must purchase green cleaning products, District 95’s director of buildings and grounds, Richard Batka, decided to go above and beyond basic measures.

“We chose to exceed the requirements of the public act,” Batka said. “Our district has been striving to be proactive by exceeding the minimum requirements since 2011.”

Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski says Batka’s position as a building and grounds director was added in part to produce energy savings and environmentally friendly efforts.

“Holistically, the district saw the importance of streamlining all of its operational processes and having it overseen by a buildings and grounds director that we never had before,” Kuzniewski said. “Rich has a real good understanding of not only how to be green in terms of the products used but also in the area of energy management.”

District 95 has done several things in order to become a “greener” district, including purchasing environmentally friendly products that meet third-party certifications, recycling product packaging and diluting cleaning products in order to reduce consumption. 

Aside from the change in products and their usage, the district also purchased walk-off mats to capture dirt at entrances in order to reduce the amount of dirt tracked into the building. 

The district has also purchasing cleaning equipment that reduces both noise and water and electrical use.

“These, along with our procedures and scheduling, help our district to maximize cleanliness both in terms of dirt and germs and reduce unnecessary hazardous cleaning chemical exposure to a vulnerable population,” Batka said.

Aside from the practices followed by maintenance staff, the district has also incorporated green practices in the classroom for both students and faculty. 

For example, S.E. Gross Middle School students are able to participate in the Nature Club where they run Earth Week activities to raise awareness to environmental concerns, run recycling programs, hold contests for classrooms to reduce their carbon footprints and run an annual tree sale. Students have also participated in energy audits conducted by professional engineers. 

Since implementing the measures and educating students and faculty, Batka says electric and natural gas usage have been reduced drastically. 

“Our school district believes that its not only important to create a healthy school environment that improves indoor air quality, which we believe is directly related to academic performance, but to reduce consumption of all natural resources as well as energy,” Batka said. 

Kuzniewski considers the state award and the program overall as a reason to be impressed with the district.

“This is probably something that I am the most proud of in our buildings and grounds operation,” Kuzniewski said. “Rich has brought a fundamental principal and belief that there has to be a lot of staff development and training for custodians on how to properly use products so they are not being overused, and how to operate effectively the machinery they encounter. This focus is unparalleled to other districts.”

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