Green to be color for Clarke County plant services

By Keith Llado

The Clarke County plant services and custodial operations department is looking forward to new green cleaning technologies, recycling programs and building renovations now that the office’s new executive director is in place.
The Clarke County School District recently decided to merge these two, formerly separate departments. Kimberly Thomas accepted her position as executive director in September of last year.
Thomas is the first executive director to oversee the joint department.
Thomas, a Georgia native, received her high school education from Clarke Central High School—something that made her decision to accept the position easy.
“When the position came up, it was almost a no-brainer to go back and work in the school district where you actually attended,” Thomas said.
Thomas is increasing efforts to implement green cleaning technologies and practices in Clarke County schools, according to a Banner-Herald report.
The program calls for the use of water, hydrogen peroxide and cleaning concentrates over harsh chemical cleaners that contain chlorine or ammonia. The focus is to provide better indoor air quality, a safer working and learning environment and more efficient and cost-effective building systems, Thomas said.
These factors contribute heavily to students’ academic success.
“When students, not just college students, but children are in healthy buildings, aesthetically pleasing buildings, they can learn more,” Thomas said.
The next step is improving cleaning tools and technologies. Custodians will hand in their mops and cloth towels for micro-fiber mop pads and towels. Vacuums with “help filters” will improve air quality in addition to cleaning. Custodians will clean major contact points—desks, door handles, water fountains, keyboards—with ionized water molecules, not Windex.
Georgia Tech, Emory University, Cobb County Schools, hospitals and schools nation-wide have already adopted these technologies, Thomas said.
Micro-fiber pads are cleaned in hot water and detergent, which is easier on the septic system and more cost-effective. These technologies are able to “get staff in quicker, into more areas” without harsh smells or noise pollution, Thomas said.
“If we’re doing our job right you should never know we’re there,” Thomas said.
The program encompasses research, policy, education and training. Thomas, though, is no stranger to green cleaning or management of a public business.
Thomas received her BA in political science and her MPA in public administration from UGA, making her a “double dawg.” She later worked as assistant director of the UGA Services Department—a position she held for over 20 years.
Thomas worked with multiple units of the university during her time as assistant director—student affairs, the police department and the physical plant. Her experiences as a student and assistant director gave her a unique perspective on the administrative and financial operations of the university, Thomas said.
The green cleaning campaign in place for Clarke County schools was adapted from UGA’s nationally certified green cleaning program. Thomas was one of the developers of the award-winning program.
One of the more challenging tasks of the campaign is changing the public’s perception of “clean,” Thomas said.
“People depend on smells,” Thomas said. “As long as you smell Pin Sol you think it’s clean.”
Beyond cleaning, Thomas is working on a focused recycling program in Clarke Central High School. The pilot program will be a joint venture between Young Dawgs, a UGA internship program for high school students, the Athens-Clarke Recycling Division and Thomas’ department.
The program will develop a recycling plan, raise environmental awareness, educate and attempt to change traditional attitudes regarding waste disposal.
It’s important to shape behavior early, so “by the time they get to college, it’s old hat,” Thomas said.
Thomas also wants to improve the mechanical systems in older school buildings. These renovations include heating, cooling, lighting, ventilation and so on.
“We’re always asking, what is in this building that has the potential to be more environmentally friendly,” Thomas said.
Thomas also makes personal efforts to be environmentally conscious outside of work. Minor, daily decisions like carpooling or walking can make an impact, Thomas said.
The most important thing about working as executive director is building partnerships, sound plans and then executing those plans for the better, Thomas said. “These things won’t happen over night, but we have plans in place.”

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