SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Four campuses in four different parts of the state.
Three-hundred-twenty-one buildings totaling 5.4 million square feet of space.
Roughly 20,000 people a day expected.
Most spread across a main campus of 1,200 acres.
Such is the magnitude of the task facing the University of Rhode Island employees charged with ensuring safety as the school readies to reopen, a half year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Like other schools at all levels around the state, URI shifted to distance learning in March.
TO OUR READERS: This content is being provided for free as a public service during the coronavirus outbreak. Sign up for our daily or breaking newsletters to stay informed. Please support local journalism by
subscribing to The Providence Journal.
During a tour over the weekend, facilities officials involved in the reopening escorted The Journal across a largely deserted main Kingston campus and through three major buildings. They discussed not only the logistics of preparing for the planned September resumption of classes, but also this year’s regular summer maintenance — which is extensive even in ordinary times.
So far, so good, said Karl Calvo, assistant vice president, Facilities Group, Division of Administration and Finance.
“We’ve successfully taken on a lot of extra work to get ready for the kids to come back this fall, much more than we’ve ever done in the past,” he said. “It’s been a Herculean effort.”
One involving many departments and in concert with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Health Department, according to Calvo.
Much of the work has involved air.
Clean filtered air — drawn from the outside, not recirculated from within — is the gold standard for pandemic purity and many of URI’s newer buildings already have such HVAC systems. For older buildings, URI has relied on an engineering specialist who assessed conditions and made recommendations.
Bathrooms are another major consideration, whether in residential halls, classrooms, administration buildings, libraries, research centers or wherever.
“In the men’s rooms, for example,” Calvo said, “if there’s more than one urinal, every other one will be closed off; the water will be shut off and it’ll be covered. Same thing with the with the sinks: every other one will be shut off and covered.”
“You’ll notice all the water bubblers,” Calvo said. “Those are all covered and shut off.”
Capacities reduced, with remaining seats properly separated from each other.
“Everything is spread out,” Calvo said.
Those new devices on the walls facing the front of the room, where teachers will teach?
“Specific classrooms will be equipped with cameras and voice, connected to the internet so that the kids have the option to either be in person or remote for their classes,” Calvo said.
Elevators will be limited to one person at a time, with signs encouraging people who are able to use stairs, in order to give people living with disabilities priority with the lifts.
Indeed, signage has been a critical part of the job. After determining the safest one-way traffic patterns and best corresponding entrances and exits, floor labels had to be ordered and installed. So, too, the signs listing room capacity, requiring mask-wearing and other restrictions. Plus, the “Maintain social distancing” signs found, among other places, in Green Hall’s Enrollment Services — next to bottles of Rhody Blue, the hand sanitizer made by URI’s College of Pharmacy.
The most work, by far, has been on the Kingston campus, which census-wise dwarfs URI’s three others: the Feinstein Providence Campus, the Bay Campus in Narragansett, and the W. Alton Jones Campus in West Greenwich. With Rhode Island College, URI also operates the Rhode Nursing Education Center on Eddy Street in Providence.
The regular summer maintenance Calvo and his team are overseeing involves water and cooling and heating systems — most at Kingston, which Calvo compared to “a small city.”
As usual, the steam plant was shut down for a week, “to replace a bunch of valves, upgrade the controls, that kind of thing,” he said.
Fresh water from Kingston’s three wells drilled into the Chipuxet Aquifer, a dependable source, reaches buildings through pipes, which have been flushed and chlorinated once again this year. Electric pumps power that system, but in the case of an outage, a backup generator switches on. A new generator was installed this summer.
There has been more work, some not directly related to COVID-19: new water mains being installed on Upper College Road, for example, and the partitioning of Flagg Road to create bike lanes. Both thoroughfares are major campus arteries. Also, with residential housing limited this fall, new parking areas are being created for an expected new influx of cars.
And large tents that will be erected near Memorial Union for student dining.
Joining Calvo on the weekend tour were Daniel Cartier, assistant director of Maintenance and Repair, Facilities Operations, and Doug Michael, assistant director of Custodial Services, Facilities Operations.
The three gave credit to other leaders involved in planning the reopening, including Sam Adams, director of Emergency Management; Ellen Reynolds, director of Health Services; vice president for Student Affairs Kathy Collins; Frankie Minor, director of Housing and Residential Life; and Dean Libutti, vice provost for Enrollment Management.
“It’s a big effort but it’s worthwhile because we want to keep this university a highly- rated university that is safe,” Calvo said.
On Twitter: @gwaynemiller