In February, Alison Murphy, director of Buildings and Grounds at Columbia-Greene Community College, received her first few COVID-19-related guidelines from the State University of New York.
In response, hand-sanitizer stations were installed in C-GCC’s corridors, construction-grade N95 masks were purchased for use by maintenance personnel, a disinfecting misting machine was purchased, and ‘stop the spread’ signage was erected at entrances and in public spaces.
It would be three more weeks before students, faculty, and staff were sent home to work and study remotely, and Murphy had no way of knowing those steps would be the start of a massive overhaul of campus operations.
“The over-arching goals were to create a safe environment and a plan that can be easily communicated to the public, faculty, staff, and students,” said Murphy, noting that throughout the spring and summer, the Buildings and Grounds team worked to meet standards for safety and cleanliness set forth by local, state, and national agencies – standards that changed and evolved frequently. “This was once a very overwhelming list. Now, it’s one we are about to finalize.”
It’s also a list that came in the midst of C-GCC’s existing Capital Construction Project, a three-phase juggernaut of its own. The installation of new HVAC systems, a full reroofing of the Main Building, lighting replacements, and more were underway at the same time classrooms, public spaces, and office areas were being reconfigured, anti-microbial coatings were being applied to floors and other surfaces, and communications plans drafted for students, employees, and the public.
“So, while we were juggling what we were doing to address COVID-19, we were also working with our construction contractors to collect and submit their COVID-19 plans and protocols for while they were on campus working,” said Murphy. “However, the silver lining is given the virus, having a state-of-the-art HVAC system was critical and that was a huge part of the project. Outside air fans, filtration, and most systems only have two points of filtration and our Main Building now has three – so the campus air quality is the best it can possibly be.”
In fact, air quality is currently one of the key topics discussed across the entire SUNY system, and C-GCC’s unique perspective sometimes put the College at the forefront of those conversations.
Many Hands Make Light Work
Murphy explained that SUNY Work groups, consisting of Buildings and Grounds representatives from across the state began meeting in April on an aggressive, two-day-a-week schedule, with members collaboratively creating protocols to inform reopening plans on all 64 SUNY campuses.
“These conversations cover everything from policies and procedures for custodial work in classrooms, public areas, and bathrooms, to where to find out whether a particular cleaning chemical used by the College met COVID-19 EPA and DEC requirements,” she said. “We got right down to the nitty-gritty of clearly defining ‘how to disinfect a surface,’ for example, and now, every campus is going forward with a shared disinfection protocol.”
To that end, the C-GCC custodial team has received training in advanced cleaning practices to be used both a daily basis and in the case of an emergency, and in turn, faculty, staff, and students returning to campus will be trained in “shared disinfectant procedures,” designed to involve the entire campus community in the sanitizing process.
“We’ve also completed a new maintenance policy and nearly all of the necessary space and security alterations to gradually welcome people back to campus,” Murphy added, explaining that as the Fall semester commences, students will be required to check in with security at a designated entrance, sign a log book indicating the time of arrival, and answer health and safety screening questions to receive a colored wristband for the day they’re on campus.
They’ll find that classrooms have been reconfigured in a “honeycomb” style to yield the greatest number of seats while still maintaining six-feet of social-distance, and class start- and end-times have been staggered to reduce foot-traffic in the hallways. Plexiglass shields have been installed in high-traffic areas, and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn by everyone on campus when social distancing cannot be maintained, including in corridors.
And while the to-do list is likely far from complete, Murphy said the goals set forth since February – including those that may have changed or shifted – to prepare for the Fall 2020 semester have been met, if not bested.
“Reaching those goals means that not only have we made all the changes necessary to bring our cleaning and disinfection game up to a new level and to adopt new approaches to HVAC, space-planning, and security, but that we also have a solid plan to follow moving forward,” she said. “It’s been quite an experience, to say the least.”
For more information, view CoGreene Forward, C-GCC’s Campus Reopening Plan.
Photo Caption: Tyler Kritzman, associate to the Maintenance Department at C-GCC, poses with one of the early signs erected at the College to adhere to COVID-19 regulations.