Campus Buildings Get Special Attention in Preparation for Return to Campus

Kaila Mauro installs a reminder sticker on a benchIt’s been a summer of spreadsheets, physical-distancing stickers and some big sticks as Pitt’s Office of Facilities Management teams have prepared University buildings for more students, faculty and staff members to return to campus.

From the top levels of planning administration to the work boots on the ground, it’s been a team effort to ready campus buildings.

Many of the typical summer renovations and upgrades that are customarily done have taken a back seat to this year’s urgent priority of making facilities ready so campus can operate as fully as possible amid varying levels of COVID-19 risk.

In tandem with University partners, facilities management has attended to countless details including reviewing building systems, installing physical distancing signage and enhancing cleaning protocols, as well as evaluating capacity and scouting for alternate spaces—making note of spaces ranging from idled meeting rooms to University Club ballrooms in the quest for rooms that may help meet the need for reduced classroom occupancy. They’ve also worked with their counterparts on each of the University’s regional campuses to ensure similar measures are in place.

HVAC takes a lead role

Unsurprisingly, indoor air quality is among the top priorities, with a goal of filtering and bringing in as much fresh outdoor air as possible, said Dan Fisher, assistant vice chancellor for operations and maintenance.

“We are evaluating every building on campus,” he said, adding that carpenters have been making the rounds to ensure that all operable windows across campus are in good working order before classes begin. 

In addition, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems were reprogrammed to bring in as much outdoor air possible within the limits of the system, he said.

a yellow and blue graphic that says "Please wait here." with two panther paw printsThe University is adhering to ASHRAE (American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations regarding operation of HVAC equipment and systems, said Al Agostinelli, director of building systems and commissioning, whose team took the lead on the HVAC adjustments.

“By the time students arrive we will have invested over 5,000 hours into HVAC assessments and improvements alone,” he estimated.

“Well over 1,000 pieces of air moving equipment underwent evaluation, ranging from large central building-wide systems to small single zone equipment,” he said, adding that three members of his team have been devoted full-time, and two others dedicated at least half-time, to COVID-19 related inspections this summer.

Fisher added that as an additional check, the University engaged outside consultants to independently inspect the HVAC modifications. “The consultants have all said we are far exceeding our peer institutions in the steps we have taken,” he said. “That’s added validation.”

The HVAC systems’ operating status will be continually monitored at more than 800,000 control points through the University’s Building Management System and its continuous commissioning and fault detection software, which alerts the team to any potential concerns.  

Sanitizer, signage and surfaces

The need to de-densify spaces is what brought out the big sticks this summer: custodial team members carried 6-foot sticks to easily measure spacing as they installed floor markings and red or green stickers on desks, tables and seats to designate available and unavailable spots.

Facilities management has installed more than 600 hand sanitizer stations and placed more than 175 kinds of COVID-19 related signage—tens of thousands of stickers in all—to keep health and safety protocols top of mind across the campus community.

They’ve taken steps to ensure that hydration stations, where individuals can refill their own water bottles, are operating across campus, while disconnecting water fountains, and securing restroom fixtures to ensure physical distancing.

“The University has really taken a very deep dive into looking after the well-being and welfare of students, faculty and staff,” said Will Mitchell, director of facility services. “We have a strong plan in place. And we can pivot as needed. We have a pathway to move between phases quickly.

“There’s been so much planning into all of this. Everything has been thought through as much as possible,” he said.

Enhanced cleaning protocols for housing, classrooms and office facilities have been adopted in accord with University cleaning, disinfection and hygiene standards and guidelines.

Custodial team members will be visible, wiping down handrails, door knobs, elevator panels and other high-touch areas. They will continue their enhanced cleaning of housing, classrooms and office facilities, with common areas and restrooms being cleaned multiple times each day and educational spaces deep-cleaned each night.

Students, faculty and staff will need to do their part to clean their own work areas and shared spaces. Dispensers for disinfectant wipes have been placed in classrooms, computer labs and other areas throughout campus for frequently touched surfaces such as desks, phones, computers and chairs.

Humans at the heart of it

Amid all of the physical safety-related planning and adaptation, the human aspects of the community’s well-being are a top priority as well, noted Beth McGrew, associate vice chancellor for planning, design and real estate.

For example, signage has been kept simple and distinct, she said. “We want people to feel like they can move around, but we also want them to be cautious and aware in their surroundings.”

Whenever possible, classes will be scheduled on floors closer to ground level, to reduce the need for students to wait in line for campus elevators, which will be limited to four occupants at a time, and to reduce stress for students heading to class. 

“It’s going to be a different experience—rather than coming to class in a big room with a lot of people, it may be a big room with a ‘where is everybody?’ feeling, with physical distancing and hybrid learning for everyone’s health and safety,” said McGrew.

“One goal throughout the planning process has been to think about limiting frustration, knowing that the current situation is not the start to an academic year that anyone hoped for,” she said.