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Preparing Higher Education Facilities For Reopening

Short- and long-term facility solutions that allow students and staff to return to campus safely

Students wearing masks and keeping social distance while reading outside

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every area and activity within institutional and commercial facilities, and facility managers in higher education who oversee facilities that range from dormitories and classrooms to research laboratories and athletic facilities face an especially diverse set of challenges.

While managers need to consider the long-term challenges of incorporating pandemic preparedness into their organizations' facility design and resilience efforts, they first need to address the much more immediate challenge of updating and reopening facilities in ways that ensure healthy spaces for learning and work. Unfortunately, the nature of the pandemic means they do not have a lot of experience to rely on when adapting facilities to prevent the spread of potentially deadly airborne illnesses.

"This pandemic is really making us address only what is directly in front of us," says Brian Widowski, P.E., senior project manager with Smith Seckman Read. "There has not been a lot of time to look back to see where we have had success and where we've had failures."

Nonetheless, in the face of the ongoing pandemic, students and faculty returning to campuses in a matter of weeks, minimal guidance on how to most effectively improve facility systems, uncertain funding for upgrades, and murky long-term goals related to facility design, managers are using their experience and skills to ensure higher education facilities are safe for returning occupants.

The State Of Campuses And FMs

While higher education campuses have some things in common, there are just as many factors that differentiate them, from enrollment and geography to the age of facilities and the skill sets of managers, supervisors and front-line technicians. Given these differences, it should come as no surprise that universities making plans for the return of students and faculty in the fall are taking different paths to reopening facilities.

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