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University of California San Francisco – Managing Campus Buildings in the Era of COVID-19

Sean Aloise, University of California San Francisco
May 6, 2020

When San Francisco joined five Bay Area counties to issue shelter-in-place orders on March 17, 2020, it quickly became apparent that it wouldn’t be business-as-usual on the UC San Francisco campus. And, as long as the virus remains a threat, it’s also apparent that it won’t be business-as-usual when students and employees return.

Following that initial shelter-in-place order, many buildings on the sprawling campus in the heart of San Francisco were soon empty. UCSF Facilities Services reacted by adjusting the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems while also restricting building access to main entry points that require badge access, limiting the need for security personnel.

“Our goal was to not waste UCSF’s resources by heating and cooling spaces that are empty,” said Interim Director of Engineering and Utilities, Paul Landry. He emphasized that lab spaces, fire alarms, and fan control operations would continue as normal.

The plan to “power down” the buildings as much as possible was developed in conjunction with the university’s Office of Environment Health & Safety, the campus fire marshal and the team of professional engineers at UCSF Facilities Services that operate the buildings on a daily basis.

“Our team made recommendations to adjust HVAC and building security,” said Associate Director of Facilities Services, Adam Schnirel. “Other changes were recommended by the university’s Emergency Operations Center or as a result of changes at the city and county level.”

While San Francisco has extended its shelter-in-place order through the end of May, Schnirel said the Facilities Services team is already planning for the first phase of employees to return to campus.

“The work environment is going to change,” he said. “We are partnering with the university’s Emergency Operations Center and our marketing team to implement new guidance and signage regarding the need for physical distancing in areas such as elevators, classrooms, and auditoriums. We are also developing posters, flyers, and digital signage explaining what healthy buildings look like in the COVID-19 era.”

Schnirel said that Facilities Managers will also conduct virtual brown bag sessions or town halls to educate staff about this new normal. “Our work environment has changed and our primary goal is to keep the campus community safe. We will continue to adjust our physical workspace as new information becomes available and communicate those changes to our campus community.”