As the fall semester approaches, the University of St. Michael’s College is implementing cutting-edge measures—including some from front-line health care settings—to keep the campus safe for community members and visitors.
“Safety is of foremost importance when considering reopening—not just for staff and students, but for everyone that has access to USMC,” says Michael Chow, Director of Facilities and Services at St. Mike’s. Following public health guidelines and the University of Toronto, Chow and his team have implemented measures ranging from extensive cleaning strategies to high-tech virus-killing devices. The measures fall into three main categories: facilities, administrative measures, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Visitors to campus will notice a variety of newly installed safety measures this fall, including Plexiglass shields at key points including the Porter’s Desk, Registrar’s Office, and other areas where queues could create challenges for physical distancing. Classrooms and common areas will have less furniture and reduced capacities in order to make it easier for an appropriate distance to be maintained, and signage and stickers will help direct pedestrian traffic to keep people moving efficiently and safely through indoor spaces.
HVAC equipment will receive increased–efficiency filters wherever possible, as well as a more rigorous filter replacement schedule to ensure clean air throughout campus buildings. Twenty-five free-standing hand-sanitizer stations have been installed next to building entrances, high-traffic areas and entrances to larger classrooms, and wipe or spray disinfectants will be available for students to quickly clean off a desk or chair before they use it, as well. All washrooms are now stocked with paper towels, and Legionella testing has identified no issues with water on campus.
“I think the most important change is about our cleaning strategies, for both common spaces and student spaces,” Chow says. In line with UofT’s tri-campus cleaning protocols, St. Mike’s will conduct enhanced cleaning throughout all building spaces and student areas while also adding “a dedicated team of cleaners to do disinfecting and increase cleaning in high-touch areas—a minimum of twice a day for high-touch surfaces.” Routine cleaning during normal workday hours as well as on nights and weekends will be enhanced through the use of new cleaning agents, which have been upgraded to a dual-purpose cleaner that both cleans and disinfects.
Hard at work keeping campus safe since the pandemic began, the Facilities and Housekeeping teams is going into the fall semester with new, high-tech tools. Chow says that his team adopted some of these after first seeing them used in hospital and long-term-care settings—the front lines in the fight against the virus.
These tools include a stand–alone UV light system, which staff are using to disinfect all residence rooms before new students move into them in September. The portable UV system is also intended for use in classrooms. A hospital-grade portable disinfectant misting system will also be employed on an as-needed basis, helping to disinfect places that are hard to reach using normal cleaning methods.
All Facilities & Services staff members have worn either reusable or disposable masks during their work since the pandemic began, with many of those coming from a generous donation of 2000 masks by a St. Michael’s student in May. Now, as some staff and faculty return to campus this fall, two reusable masks will be provided to every student and employee. St. Michael’s will follow the University of Toronto and the City of Toronto in requiring non-medical masks or face coverings to be worn inside buildings that are normally publicly accessible.
Anyone without one will be able to receive a single-use mask at the Porter’s Desk, ensuring that all outside visitors and contractors will also be able to have access to masks while on the USMC campus. Signage posted throughout campus will provide visitors and community members with reminders of proper mask usage as well as principles of handwashing, correct hand sanitizer usage, and other important safety principles.
Behind all the safety measures being implemented on campus, Chow says, are the members of the Facilities and Housekeeping teams, whose tireless efforts have kept students, employees, and visitors safe throughout the pandemic. As he wrote for InsightOut, “Behind the scenes—and often unnoticed—the F&H staff have faced the challenges of the pandemic as essential staff and turned them into opportunities as guardians for the university.”
“I think we’re doing something right,” Chow says. While the safety measures will help keep the St. Michael’s campus safe this fall, he notes, it’s almost just as important to communicate the changes to the campus community “to put everyone’s minds at ease.
“We’re not just sending everyone back to the same university they left,” he says.
Consult Fall 2020 for current updates on St. Michael’s plans for the fall semester.
Today, we hear from two of the voices working to keep the campus in safe and beautiful condition. Angela MacAloney-Mueller is Physical Plant Coordinator. She’s been a part of the USMC community since August 1994, and notes that the comfort of students and staff are her top priority. Michael Chow is the Director of Facilities & Services. He joined the USMC community in August of 2019, and is dedicated to making USMC the most beautiful campus in Canada.
The New Normal on the St. Mike’s Campus
Anyone who’s visited my office knows how much of a Harry Potter fan I am. During the last few weeks a line from one of the movies keeps running through my mind. In Order of the Phoenix, Mrs. Figg assists Harry in escaping two Dementors—flying, soul-sucking monsters—who have attacked Harry and his cousin, Dudley. “Dementors in Little Winging! Whatever next? The whole world’s gone topsy-turvy!” Some days it does feel like that.
In early January, the coronavirus was something discussed but not really worried about—at least not by me. Then I was asked to source order hand sanitizer for the campus. It was then I started to worry a little; it wasn’t as easy to source as I had thought, although I was able to order some. Once it arrived I distributed it to various departments. At that time, I think we were all hoping the coronavirus wouldn’t affect our lives—it was happening “out there.” February came, the virus became more widespread, and senior managers discussed emergency plans.
Then everything seemed to happen so fast. Students were asked to move out early, classes moved online, and plans were made for the staff who could to work from home. I woke up one March morning to find myself using a laptop for the first time, logging in remotely from my kitchen. It took a couple of weeks to get used to working from home. I still get up at the same time and follow my morning routine. I do this for two reasons: one, my cat won’t let me sleep in and, two, I know it is better for me mentally to stick to my regular routine wherever I can.
I am grateful I can work from home and don’t have to take public transit, but I miss the camaraderie with my coworkers, going to lunch at my favourite sushi place, and just being on campus. I have worked on campus for more than half my life. Sixteen years at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, and it’ll be ten years this August that I have worked for the Facilities Department. The campus is like a second home, and it’s taken some adjusting to not being there as often.
This time of year is normally one of the busiest times for the Facilities Department. Students move out at the end of April, and we do room inspections and repairs in May, when we normally prepare to host summer camps. I missed the hustle and bustle of that this year. Still, we must keep moving forward, so we are now getting some work done in the campus buildings.
I go to campus once a week to do paperwork and other tasks I can’t do from home. I always go for a walk around the mainly quiet campus. Signs of spring are everywhere. The lilacs are in bloom, the birds are singing, and the tulips planted last fall are showing off their lovely colours. The day I’m in the office feels the most normal. It’s nice to see and chat with a couple of coworkers, to have a sense of normalcy, even if only for a day.
I don’t know if we will ever go back to the way things were, but I know we will all adjust to a new normal. Yes, it does feel very “topsy-turvy” right now, but we must keep going and not let fear take away the joy in our lives. I know this is not forever, and I need to keep reminding myself of that. I look forward to the day we are all on campus together again.
The campus and the world are not the same today as they were three months ago.
As a commuter, it is now hard for me to believe I had problems finding a parking spot at the GO train station ahead of my 6:28 am train. After March 12, parking was no longer the issue, but rather the frequency of trains. Ridership dropped drastically, which I originally attributed to March Break but quickly learned was a sign of people staying away from the “germ tube.” I followed suit and decided to drive to campus. To my surprise, I was able to make it to campus in about 25 minutes or so, the equivalent of making the same drive prior to sunrise on a Sunday morning.
Self-isolation, self-quarantine, border closures, and a state of emergency were the hot topics in mid-March, replacing the usual campus discussions surrounding mid-term results, lectures, final exams, and convocation. After the campus closure was announced and the majority of the students had moved out, a surreal dream started playing out in Technicolor.
Imagine walking through Canada’s largest university campus in March and only encountering three people. Weird and eerie are two words to describe the overall ambiance.
While other USMC staff were able to work from home, the same opportunity was not available for the Facilities & Housekeeping staff. The courageous and dedicated staff from F&H persevered, and many of them braved public transit to ensure uninterrupted services for those students unable to return home due to travel restrictions.
Behind the scenes—and often unnoticed—the F&H staff have faced the challenges of the pandemic as essential staff and turned them into opportunities as guardians for the university. Deep cleaning and disinfecting of all campus spaces, polishing and waxing of large common floor areas and meeting rooms, lowering utilities by managing equipment set-points and turning them off where possible, and pushing forward with maintenance projects which might otherwise not be feasible with a full campus.
As we all try to predict what the “new normal” will look like, the staff and students can be assured that the USMC campus will continue to be one of Canada’s most beautiful, safe and ready to welcome everyone back once we are able to.
A card in the Facilities office from the Dons of 2019/2020 reads: “Not all superheroes wear capes.” Please stop a F&H staff member upon returning to campus; a simple heartfelt “thank-you” will have a lasting impact.
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