GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — “It’s the things that you take for granted, that you don’t think about,” said Cyndi Gove, Stockton University’s project manager of facilities and operations, as she walked around the nearly vacant Campus Center on Tuesday.
For staff and students returning to college for the fall 2020 semester, nearly every aspect of campus, from occupancy levels in classrooms to availability of water fountains to spacing of chairs in common areas, is being adjusted as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Gove is leading Stockton’s effort to prepare its facilities to welcome students and staff members back to campus next month. It’s a snapshot of what is happening across the state and the country as institutions of higher education that shut down in the spring prepare to reopen.
“We’ve been meeting for months to try and address every possible thought,” Gove said. “Essentially, we want everybody safe, but at the same time, we want the students to have a college experience.”
Gove and her colleagues did the first risk assessment walk-through in May.
“We had to go in and measure every single classroom” to find out just how many students could safely be accommodated, she said.
Then, once the chairs came out, the next question was what to do with all the extras. Gove said they have decided to create classrooms out of open spaces throughout the campuses — like in place of the bookstore at the Atlantic City campus.
She has ordered 2,000 signs to remind those in campus facilities to keep 6 feet apart.
“But I know I need more,” she said.
She also ordered more than 400 new hand sanitizing stations, bringing the total to 600, and “well over 50,000” canisters of sanitizing wipes for common areas and classrooms. Large, red circle stickers mark off distance for standing in line at the financial office, or to indicate in which direction to walk the halls. Where chairs could not be removed, a neon yellow piece of tape is stretched across the seat. More than $100,000 in Plexiglas partitions are being installed in labs, offices and between employees’ work areas.
Gove said one company quoted her a five-week wait time for the Plexiglas, so they had to pivot and find a vendor that could deliver sooner. There is also a delay in getting locks for the water fountains (the bottle filling stations will remain open). And then there is the learning curve in the new products, like that certain floor stickers are made only for carpet and others for vinyl, and they are not interchangeable.
In addition to the regular custodial staff, the college has hired a third-party cleaner to address harder-to-sanitize areas.
Gove said she is proudest of the resourcefulness and teamwork displayed by her colleagues during the pandemic.
“We just kind of hit the ground running,” she said.
All the precautionary measures are a huge expense for the college, Gove said, and no exact figure was immediately available. But at least some portion of the costs will be covered by the $10 million the college received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which was signed into law this spring to provide emergency funding for entities dealing with the impact of the pandemic.
Stockton spokeswoman Diane D’Amico said the college is using a lot of what it learned from the transition to remote learning in the spring, including scheduling times to speak with advisers or other campus offices like the registrar or financial aid. AtlantiCare and the Atlantic County Health Department have also been involved in Stockton’s reopening process.
D’Amico said students will be taking a pledge to follow safety protocols and will be given a health questionnaire each time they sign on to the university system for classes.
“The success of anything we do is really going to rely on everyone cooperating and doing it. The more everyone cooperates and follows the precautions, the more we’re going to be able to do,” D’Amico said.