Facilities Management getting ready for campus re-entry

Facilities worker placing stickers to promote social distancing


While guidance for returning to campus continues to evolve, Scott Bernotas, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management, told the Plant Utilization and Planning Committee on June 15 that a multi-step process has been developed to evaluate buildings’ readiness for re-entry.

This process will be continually evaluated to meet CDC standards and to incorporate advice from the newly formed Chancellor’s Healthcare Advisory Group.

The biggest issue, and the one that prompted the most questions from committee members, is how to enforce social distancing in classrooms and other campus gathering spots.

“When you come back to your facilities, you’ll notice a large number of signs that may direct you to stand here. It may direct you about only so many people in the elevator,” Bernotas said. “As you enter the building, you’ll be given kind of the rules of the road, … guidelines to help keep everyone healthy.”

In some areas, lounge chairs will be secured to encourage people to stay socially distant and not just pull chairs together in an impromptu gathering.

Bernotas said Facilities Management is working with the provost’s office and the registrar to address social distancing in classrooms. But each room will have to be evaluated separately.

Lucy Russell, vice provost and chief of staff in the provost’s office, said seats will be marked as to whether someone can sit in them or not. There are already stickers on seats in G8 of the Cathedral of Learning, Bernotas said, with the spacing at least 6 feet apart and sometimes more.

Committee member Irene Frieze, a professor emeritus in psychology, asked what could be done to keep students from crowding around instructors at the end of class. She mentioned that some schools have decided to install plexiglass in front of the instructors to help.

Russell said that students and others will need to adopt new norms of behavior. “There is a proposal to have students develop a student compact that we all buy into,” she said, which would have rules for social distancing.

Who would enforce those rules is a question that a lot of people are working on right now, Bernotas said.

Evaluating building readiness

Bernotas said all of Pitt’s buildings have had a deep cleaning since they were vacated in mid-March. In a recent visit, he said he found the Eureka Building, where Facilities Management is housed, “cleaner than it’s ever been.”

From the beginning of the pandemic, the custodial staff has stepped up cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas, such as elevator buttons and doorknobs, using the most recommended products to do this effectively.

When people return to campus, restrooms will be cleaned a few times a day and there will be a limit on how many people can be in a restroom at a time.

So far, Bernotas said, Pitt has not had any trouble getting the appropriate cleaning materials.

Frieze said she had heard that classrooms would be cleaned between each class, and she wondered who would be doing that. Bernotas said that’s still be worked out, although, “we obviously don’t have enough staff to get every classroom between every class.” There will be cleaning supplies in each classroom, he said.

In addition to cleaning, Bernotas said Facilities Management has been looking at all the building systems and infrastructure. He said they are following the CDC and other recommended guidance for maintaining and adjusting systems, such as heating and cooling, to make sure everything’s in good order before people return. The crews also have kept up with routine preventative maintenance.

Like the custodial crews, the grounds crews have been on campus every day since most faculty, staff and students left in mid-March. They continue to collect trash, make sure buildings’ entrances are clear and “ensuring that lawns get mowed and that there is some greenery ready for when the students return,” Bernotas said.

Making sure all these frontline workers are safe has been a big step in the process, he said. Many were “very nervous about continuing to work on campus. A lot of them had concerns; a lot of them have to take public transportation. I’m really proud of the crew. They’ve done it and they’ve done it really well. … So it’s incumbent on us … to ensure that they were properly outfitted with personnel protective equipment, that they’re trained on how to do proper cleaning, that they’re trained on social distancing, that they’re trained on the symptoms and concerns with COVID-19.”

Facilities Management also has people on campus who are inspecting the work and making sure it’s done correctly and safety.

Finally, Bernotas said, any safety plan has to involve the entire Pitt community. “All the efforts we put in place, can’t overcome reckless habits or a lack of following guidance.”

“We ask that everybody returning to campus knows the guidelines and follows the guidelines,” he said. “Wherever possible, our hope is that folks will continue to work from home if they’re able to. … That will just put less people on campus, less strain to maintain social distancing.”

The latest guidelines can be found at coronavirus.pitt.edu, and they will be updated as more information becomes available.

Other updates

Bigelow Boulevard: The reconstruction of the block between Fifth and Forbes avenues is now on track to be completed by October, said committee co-chair Debbie Miller, who presented an update from the city of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. The original plan was to finish the project before students arrived in August, but a shutdown of construction for two months during the pandemic set the timeline back.

Bus Rapid Transit system: Paul Supowitz, vice chancellor for Community and Government Relations, pointed out reports in May that the BRT between Oakland and downtown Pittsburgh had received the final commitment for funding of $99.95 million from the federal Department of Transportation. The project includes eliminating the counterflow bus lane on Fifth Avenue and turning it into a bicycle path. There is no timeline on the project yet.

Bike(+) Plan: Earlier this month, the city of Pittsburgh released its 10-year plan for bicycle routes throughout the city. Find the plan here.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


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