A Return To Manual Maintenance

As we all know, parks are wonderful places for family and friends to enjoy any time of the year. Reunions, birthday parties, graduation parties and other events are often celebrated in recreational areas. And throughout most of the year, kids--of all ages--head to playgrounds to have fun.

Some parks host organized sports leagues that attract hundreds of people. Users may also walk on paved and unpaved trails, and many bring their dogs. All of this is great, except it can cause challenges for park managers. The park is bound to get dirty, and often this involves cement-paved walkways, areas around rest stations, pavilions and other buildings, as well as in and around parking lots, tennis courts and pools.

In many recreational facilities, maintaining these public areas and pathways has typically been performed by using pressure-washing/air-blowing equipment. And for many types of projects--maintaining picnic tables, the soiled concrete floors of picnic areas, bleacher areas, leaves and plant debris and barbecue grills--these tools are often the fastest and most thorough way to get the job done.

However, due to growing concerns about saving water, conserving energy, and maintaining parks in a more environmentally responsible fashion--as well as the remoteness of some park areas where it is difficult to haul heavy gas-using power equipment or where there may be no electrical power sources--several park managers are looking into other cleaning and maintenance options.

Manually sweeping large areas or long pathways is typically out of the question because of the time and labor required. However, turning to mechanical sweeping systems that do not use electricity, gas or water can be a useful alternative.

Sweepers Revisited

In the late 1880s, Melville and Anna Bissell developed a manually operated sweeper to remove the dust and buildup that accumulated on the carpets and floors of their small crockery shop. So many people were impressed with the machine that the Bissells closed their shop and focused all of their attention on building mechanical sweepers.

“It was a great invention,” says Mark Cuddy, Director of Sales East for Tornado Industries, a manufacturer of professional cleaning equipment. “The only problem is there have been relatively few refinements to the technology in all these years, and few if any of these can be applied to large-scale outdoor sweeping--the type necessary for a park.”

Recently, however, some jansan (janitorial) manufacturers have taken a second look at manual sweepers, attempting to make them more-efficient and high-performing, able to handle large-scale sweeping needs such as those in an industrial, park or other outdoor setting. “The problem developing these mechanical sweepers has been twofold,” says Cuddy. “One involves adequately trapping dust, dirt and soil so that they do not become airborne, and the other is much more practical--improving the sweeping and dust-collecting capabilities of the equipment overall.”

One new system that addresses both these issues uses multiple rotating brushes that are activated as the sweeper is pushed. It includes two brushes for corner and edge cleaning and two for main-surface cleaning. “The brushes sweep in opposite directions, moving the dirt in an ‘upsweep’ motion,” explains Cuddy. “This helps move and trap the dust and dirt into the dirt collector.”

Scheduling Park Maintenance

The term “scheduled maintenance” typically refers to automobiles, noting when a car’s oil should be changed, tires rotated, etc. However, in order to keep park and recreational areas clean, especially sweeping the walkways and other public areas discussed here, some set schedule must be in place throughout the year.

“Of course it must be flexible,” says Cuddy. “Climate, the number of visitors and other factors will all play a role in how used--and soiled--the park becomes. However, some type of set schedule is needed to keep the park looking its best on a regular basis.”

In order to develop a flexible scheduled-maintenance plan, Cuddy offers the following suggestions:

· Make sure the schedule is in writing, so it is formalized, and covers the entire year or all the months the park is open during the year.

· Note the busiest months, such as summer months, as well as those that are not as busy. Cleaning frequencies may vary accordingly.

· Schedule sweeping and other maintenance duties on a monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly basis, depending on current needs.

· Re-evaluate the schedule every six months. Frequencies can change if it is later determined more or less service is required. However, if changed, the schedule should be adhered to for at least six months to see if it is working.

· Develop a sign-off system: each person performing a sweeping or cleaning procedure is to “sign off” that the work has been completed and when.

· The maintenance schedule should also include scheduled supervision of all work performed.

It may seem as though we are turning back the clock by using manually operated sweepers and similar types of machines. After all, for the past 60 years, everything from knives to toothbrushes has been motorized.

However, new technologies are making manually operated equipment more efficient and effective. And as we become more energy-conscious and concerned about sustainability and the environment, they may be the perfect alternative. “And using human energy to power these machines may even be better for our health as well,” adds Cuddy.

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and now a writer for the professional cleaning and building industries. He may be reached at info@alturasolutions.com