The upcoming fall 2020 semester comes with a number of changes in order to combat COVID-19 and implement safe policies. As students, faculty and staff prepare to return to campus, campus administrators are enacting plans to reopen the university using departmental task forces. One of these task forces is the Campus Facilities and Grounds task force, which focuses on what each of State’s buildings will look like in the fall, from the libraries to research labs.
Douglas Morton, associate vice chancellor of NC State Facilities and head of the Campus Facilities and Grounds task force, said his task force began discussing potential changes for the summer and fall semesters early this year, as cases began to rise.
“My group in facilities takes care of all the grounds, all the mechanical systems in the buildings, the building envelopes themselves, so the roofs and windows and so forth, the air conditioning systems, and then all the housekeeping,” Morton said. “So we touch every building in every different way.”
Morton’s task force is responsible for standardizing COVID-19 safety measures in buildings across campus, such as the face covering requirement or other social distancing tools, including sneeze guards or another form of barrier to protect professors. Morton said classroom seating is going to be less dense than usual, and that, for example, a classroom that typically fits 100 students will now only hold around 30.
“That mask is the thing that limits the spread, so if students embrace that, which it’s mandatory so I hope they do, then all the buildings are accessible, just to a lesser density,” Morton said.
For every college, Morton said his task force is communicating with a coordinator, and the deans to an extent, about the feasibility of certain measures, and has invited them to mock-ups today and Friday to see how classrooms will be presented in the fall. Morton also said they’ve discussed potential changes with Student Body President Melanie Flowers and Student Government, in addition to using the Faculty Senate to some degree.
Additionally, the Campus Facilities and Grounds task force is deliberating on how to make use of indoor and outdoor space to maintain efficiency despite necessary social distancing measures, specifically in regard to common dining spaces. As an example, Morton cited Fountain Dining Hall, where, in the first part of the summer, Morton said students were eating their food outside and sitting with friends like normal, despite CDC recommendations. The Campus Facilities and Grounds task force is testing out a potential outdoor solution in the next week to evaluate cost and functionality of safely expanding outdoor seating.
“We’re going to set up a large tent in the parking lot adjacent to Rocky Branch that will be there for the semester, like a 50-by-100-foot tent,” Morton said. “We’re not sure how we’ll outfit the seating, but we’ll do it such that we can maintain social distancing. There’ll be more air flow, and then the space will have lighting, Wi-Fi and electricity.”
As of now, the money going toward two tents, which will be outside Fountain Dining Hall and the College of Design to test out their usefulness, is within Morton’s already allocated budget.
Working on this task force, Morton said, are staff from across several different departments, including enrollment management, research, campus enterprises, housing and real estate, which will assist with the 75 companies and organizations that are not NC State affiliated on Centennial Campus.
“I have somebody from real estate because real estate deals with partners, or non-campus entities that are on campus,” Morton said. “Then I’ve got a housekeeping element, a grounds and building services element, and then those mechanical systems, so it’s a pretty diverse group.”
According to Morton, following campus closures, NC State Facilities reduced their on-campus presence as a response to COVID-19, and increased telework, but these employees are slowly making their way back to campus as university operations resume. Morton said most employees have now returned to full-time work.
“The buildings, even with no occupants, they’re still alive,” Morton said. “Those mechanical systems, those ventilation systems are still running, maybe at a reduced capacity, but the electricity is still on.”
Morton said in a typical year, when students leave in May, NC State Facilities begin major projects that impact roads and travel around campus, and this summer, since all summer camps and campus activities are cancelled, they were able to make progress on construction projects, including D.H. Hill Jr. Library’s Academic Success Center.
“That’s been easier this summer than a typical summer, but it’s about the same thing,” Morton said. “We’ve just been able to be a little bit more robust because there’s nobody here, so we’ve tried to improve upon the physical condition of the campus in the efforts of the people.”
In addition to construction projects, Morton said NC State Facilities, as they have in the past, will continue to do deep cleanings of housing and other highly used spaces, such as Carmichael Gymnasium or student centers, before students return in the fall. The only difference, Morton said, is the timeline is less restrictive because of the inactivity on campus.
The ultimate goal of the Campus Facilities and Grounds task force, according to Morton, is to make the campus experience in the fall as positive and enriching as possible, even with a mask on.
“It’ll be trying for people to go through that environment, but that’s the way to keep people safe,” Morton said. “We want to continue to be that university that invites people in, shares ideas, whether it’s behind a mask or not.”
Morton said updates regarding public safety and campus guidelines for fall will continue to be released to students via email as decisions are made, and that more information and updates can be found on the Emergency Management & Mission Continuity website.