Campus and Workspace Navigation teams prepared building spaces for safe occupancy

To help ensure the university’s preparedness for the fall semester, the Operations Working Group, part of the university-wide Fall 2020 Planning initiative and led by Senior Vice President Darrell Bazzell, included a Readiness Task Force. Headed by Facilities Planning and Management Associate Vice President David Darling, this team was divided into two major components: Facilities Readiness, overseen by Facilities Services Director Darren Hale, and Campus and Workspace Navigation, overseen by Project Management and Construction Services (PMCS) Director Mike Carmagnola.

Although collaborative, the focus of activities differed: Facilities Readiness primarily addressed building systems such as heating, air conditioning and ventilation; water; pest control; and building security such as doors and windows. Campus and Workspace Navigation created and maintained checklists for building readiness, worked to prepare signage and rearranged spaces for social distancing.

“Campus and Workspace Navigation was responsible for physical space, creating signage and social distancing that gave clear direction about how you should behave,” said Carmagnola, who led the Program Support Team, assisted by Jim Walker, director of the Office of Sustainability.

Irene Cuevas, administrative manager for Facilities Services, and Kim Giles, senior administrative associate for PMCS, were also members of the Project Support Team, tracking the daily efforts and providing updates for UT leadership and the teams.

Building Readiness and Workspace Navigation and Signage checklists—each approved by executive leadership—were launched in early June. Activities were coordinated with building managers. The checklists were introduced to building managers in town hall meetings; they received both lists to complete because of their familiarity with their buildings. Members of the Campus and Workspace Navigation team were available to assist.

Carmagnola explained that Campus and Workspace Navigation had to plan quickly starting in early July, as expected efforts across campus adjusted and the scale of the effort grew. FAS staff members were needed who were willing and able to expend up to 60 percent of their work time on planning and implementing. Campus Safety, Facilities Operations and Maintenance and Environmental Health and Safety loaned staff. Together, these FAS employees became known as Tiger Teams (Building Evaluation, Signage, and Classroom).

“The Program Support Team put a plan together, organized the Tiger Teams and organized processes,” Carmagnola said. “We set a goal to be done by August 21, in time for the planned semester start on August 26.”

Although starting with only partial information about signage needs and classroom capacities, the Program Support Team moved ahead with a Tiger Team kick-off meeting on July 9.

“We were building the plane while we were flying it,” Carmagnola said.

Carmagnola explained that portions of some buildings did not fully close in the spring or summer, with selected research and academic activities remaining underway. Nevertheless, it was important for the Tiger Teams to ensure -all buildings were fully ready for fall occupancy activities. Other buildings were prioritized for Tiger Team attention, largely based on research and academic protocols.

Building Evaluation Tiger Teams were initially available to assist Building Managers with completion of the checklists and moved into more detailed activities as needs were more clearly identified. Multiple Classroom Tiger Teams coordinated with building managers to support reduced occupancy (40 percent less than full capacity) in 250 general purpose classrooms. The Classroom teams cable tied selected furnishings such as chairs and took others out of service to meet the COVID-19 social distancing goals.

The Signage Team coordinated fabrication and installation of signage and replaced temporary signage. Much of the signage was directional, for example, which way to enter and exit classrooms and buildings, and which stairways to use for going up and which to use going down.

“We started in pieces,” Carmagnola said. “We readjusted the team structure as more pieces were known. Toward the end an entire team could enter a building and do all of the work.”

Carmagnola explained that once the teams completed signage and classroom preparation and Building Managers completed checklists, a building was certified that these activities were completed. At present, 95 buildings on the Main and J.J. Pickle Research campuses deemed priority buildings for research and academic reasons have been certified by Carmagnola and Walker. An additional 60 buildings have been certified by building managers.

At the height of the building reopening effort, approximately 60 people in the FAS portfolio were involved, according to Carmagnola.

“We had some really, really great folks,” Carmagnola said. “Everybody understood the goal, and they were happy to support the effort.”

Walker agreed that teamwork across the portfolio was key to reopening buildings by Aug. 21.

“For example, the Tiger Teams could not have completed their work without Document Solutions doing the signage,” Walker said. “Procurement and Business and Financial Services provided 20,000 zip ties and shrink wrap needed to create social distancing in classrooms and other spaces. Event and Moving Services stored and placed hand sanitizer stations. Landscape Services placed signage outside.”

Walker praised the commitment to service shown by Tiger Team members and supporting units in their efforts toward campus reopening. These individuals were willing to take on extra responsibility while carrying out their job duties. He also noted the value of the necessary interactions.

“This work caused a lot of people who don’t typically interact with each other to meet and unite toward a common goal,” Walker said. “There was a cross-training element, too.”

Carmagnola reflected on the FAS Core Values demonstrated during the building reopening process. All core values were represented, especially teamwork and diversity.

“We had all backgrounds and levels of experience,” Carmagnola said. “Whatever needed to be done, people pitched in and got it done. No task was too small for anybody.”

For more information about the role of staff in keeping the campus community healthy, visit the Protect Texas Together webpage for staff.

Classroom Tiger Teams supported social distancing in classrooms such as this one by cable tie wrapping chairs.
Classroom Tiger Teams supported social distancing in classrooms such as this one by cable tie wrapping chairs.
Sept. 21, 2020