Physical Plant preparing campus for a safe return in the fall

Elon Physical Plant has worked since March to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the university and is now preparing the campus for the safe return of students in August.

As Elon students prepare to return to campus in August, the university’s Physical Plant is working around the clock to install a number of virus mitigation measures and prepare the campus community for a safe 2020-21 academic year.

Physical Plant has wide-ranging responsibilities in operating and maintaining the university’s facilities and infrastructure. Physical Plant staff members are dedicated to ensuring high-quality facilities, reliable transportation, renowned landscaping and high-standard grounds maintenance for the campus community and guests.

Students, faculty and staff will see the results of the department’s hard work during the past few months when the university returns to in-person instruction in August.

Along with regularly disinfecting all campus buildings and high-use surfaces, Physical Plant has spent months installing floor stickers, and building and installing plexiglass in high-traffic areas across campus. Physical Plant will soon install sanitation stations containing disinfectant wipes, spray and hand sanitizer inside every classroom. To make these stations possible, the department had to first obtain the supplies necessary to protect students, faculty and staff in the fall.

“The goal was trying to determine what we were going to need and try to be the first people in line to get it before it disappeared,” said Assistant Vice President of Physical Plant Tom Flood. “So there was a lot of looking into a crystal ball and trying to make good estimates.”

The department secured 1,200 cloth face coverings for staff returning to work in the summer and an additional 11,000 Elon-branded face coverings for the rest of the campus community. Because spray bottles were in high demand, Physical Plant staff initially traveled to home improvement stores across the region in search of bottles before securing a shipment of 600 bottles that will be filled, labeled and distributed across campus by Physical Plant staff.

MARCH 16, 2020: Custodian Raquel Busko cleans Moseley Center in response to COVID-19. (photo by Andrew Krech)

The process of supplying campus with necessary equipment also took some ingenuity. For instance, hand sanitizer dispensers across campus are typically replenished with single-use refill bags. Since those bags have been nearly impossible to obtain because of high demand, Flood says Physical Plant engineers have transformed the single-use bags into bags that can be refilled using hand sanitizer from 55-gallon drums the department has purchased for refills. Disinfectant wipes have also been hard to come by, so engineers have developed their own containers to be distributed across campus.

The department is also working with the Elon Planning, Design and Construction Management department to rearrange classrooms and common areas and even transition some nontraditional spaces into classrooms, allowing for appropriate physical distancing in August. Each classroom sanitation station will include a map that depicts the proper layout of the room. Physical Plant is also adjusting HVAC systems to allow more fresh air into classroom buildings, helping prevent the spread of the virus.

Beyond the classroom, Physical Plant staff has also removed some chairs from Belk Library and decompressed furniture in Moseley Center as well as campus dining halls. Flood says the department is also considering installing multi-purpose tents to provide additional surge capacity in outdoor spaces.

JUNE 3, 2020: In response to the COVID pandemic, carpenter Jonathan Brown installs floor stickers encouraging proper 6-foot distancing in the Psychology and Human Service Studies building on South Campus. (photo by Kim Walker)

This work is a continuation of what Physical Plant has been doing since March to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the campus community. During Spring Break, staff disinfected classrooms and high-use spaces and increased the frequency of disinfecting high-use, high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, faucets, countertops and community computers. The past few months have presented Physical Plant with a number of challenges, but Flood says those challenges have brought out the best in the staff.

“It’s just been re-demonstrated how I’ve got such a good team, that they come together when they really need to,” Flood said. “They’re being very inventive and creative and willing to get the job done.”

In the Fall, Physical Plant will continue disinfecting all campus building spaces at least once a day during the workweek, and residence halls will be cleaned and disinfected seven days a week. Physical Plant staff will also disinfect high-traffic areas and high-touch surfaces several times each day. But, while the staff will work to keep students, faculty and staff safe as they return to campus, Flood says it’s important that everyone in the Elon community takes the safety of campus seriously.

“We have to be smart,” Flood said. “We have to all share that personal responsibility.”

For more information regarding the university’s plans for a safe Fall 2020 semester, visit the Elon University Ready & Resilient website.