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Brownsville Elementary’s dynamic cleaning duo

Brownsville Elementary School custodian Pat Nicholson with his floor scrubber “Fang.” - Charles Melton/staff photo
Brownsville Elementary School custodian Pat Nicholson with his floor scrubber “Fang.”
— image credit: Charles Melton/staff photo

What began as just a leaky roof four years ago spurred Brownsville Elementary School custodian Pat Nicholson into action, which recently resulted in national recognition.

That recognition came in the form of the first national C.L.E.A.N. award, which recognizes the contributions custodians make to public health in their schools, communities and their profession.

The award program is a joint initiative of the National Education Association (NEA), the NEA Health Information Network (NEA HIN), the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That leaky roof led Nicholson to focus on indoor air quality, which progressed into a passion for Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ).

Unlike conventional cleaning practices, which emphasize things like shiny floors and the neat and tidy appearance of facilities, IEQ is all about “cleaning for health,” he said.

During cold and flu season that means continually wiping down door knobs, sinks and any other frequently handled object, which has resulted in fewer sick days at Brownsville Elementary over the past four years, he said.

Another difference between IEQ and traditional cleaning practices involves the frequency of carpet cleaning, which is traditionally done only about once a year, he said.

“Carpet is a dirty sink and we try to keep it as clean as possible,” he said, noting the carpets are cleaned about every four to six weeks at the school.

Even though such frequent carpet cleaning means teachers have to move desks before and after each iteration, Nicholson said the entire school staff has become partners in the effort without complaint.

“We have a pretty good routine and everyone knows what to expect,” he said.

Part of the development of the camaraderie with students, teachers and custodial staff has been Nicholson’s partner and floor scrubber “Fang.”

“I’m a real introvert, so I needed something to help me to relate to the kids, which is where ‘Fang’ came in,” he said, adding it took four months for him to bring “Fang” to life.

With “Fang” as his partner in cleaning up, the journey that began in the mid-1980s as a way to help an aspiring teacher pay his college tuition has reached its zenith on many levels.

“It started out as a part-time job and then it turned into a full-time job when I was offered a position at Central Kitsap Junior High,” Nicholson said as he retraced his climb from CKJH to being the head custodian at Green Mountain Elementary School and being the district’s lead custodian before health issues caused him to scale back and placed him at Brownsville Elementary in 2000.

Yet Nicholson said in looking back on his career with the Central Kitsap School District, including his time as the district’s top janitor, where he is now is where he wants to be.

“I’m comfortable here and we work together as a team,” Nicholson said.

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