Faculty & Staff Share Perspectives on Building Ventilation and COVID-19 Precautions at Dickinson College

A+spot+where+students+and+faculty+once+convened%2C+the+front+porch+of+Bosler+Hall%E2%80%93as+well+as+the+building+itself%E2%80%93remains+relatively+empty+during+the+spring+semester.+Photo+courtesy+of+Valerie+Kuppek.

A spot where students and faculty once convened, the front porch of Bosler Hall–as well as the building itself–remains relatively empty during the spring semester. Photo courtesy of Valerie Kuppek.

Valerie Kuppek '21, Guest Writer

While once an accessible part of life on campus, Dickinson’s buildings now stand as a collective, looming edifice of uncertainty. As the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic passes, the question remains: are buildings–and classrooms–safe for use?

As colleges and universities across the country have welcomed students back throughout the pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has outlined important points for institutions to consider. Topics such as proper building ventilation have been identified as paramount towards ensuring the safety of everyone in higher education at this time. As reported by the CDC, SARS-CoV-2 particles are more likely to spread within indoor versus outdoor spaces.

Operational configurations addressing building ventilation have been made to maximize the safety of students and faculty who use indoor spaces, said Associate Vice President for Campus Operations Kristen Kostecky.

“Where possible, we have increased the amount of outside air being introduced into the buildings,” said Kostecky. “The operation of [ventilation] units have been increased so that they come on two hours before building occupancy, and run for two hours past closure. This helps to increase ventilation. New filters [are also] being installed in most systems across campus.”

At the halfway mark of the spring 2021 semester, approximately 1,300 students currently reside on campus. While not the case for all who are present, this return to campus also involves hybridized or in-person instruction. 

Colin Rathbun, assistant professor of chemistry, never anticipated that his first semester at Dickinson would begin behind a computer screen. As one of multiple professors who now frequents the Rector Science Complex for in-person teaching, he is able to spend limited time within his laboratory alongside the students who are meant to fill it. “I think we all recognize that lab is not the same without it being in person,” said Rathbun. 

“The reason why I feel so personally comfortable in the lab, is that we’re able to conduct procedures with less people, in less amount of time,” he said. “Having proper personal protective equipment and staying a social distance apart is incredibly important towards us all being safe.”

Social distancing, hood vents, and plexiglass barriers define laboratory sessions during COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Valerie Kuppek.

Social distancing, hood vents, and plexiglass barriers define laboratory sessions during COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Valerie Kuppek.

Regarding ventilation, Rathbun noted Dickinson’s commitment to maintaining scientific facility standards. “Organic chemistry labs–chemistry labs in general, really have some of the best ventilation systems in place, mostly due to chemical fumes that may be produced during experimentation,” explained Rathbun. “By default, the laboratories are already some of the safest spaces on campus.”

For other faculty who have returned to their respective buildings this semester, a solitary atmosphere lingers in spaces that once served as academic and social outlets. “I am one of a few professors who is in the building daily or near-daily,” said Eva Copeland, associate professor of Spanish, who works remotely out of her office in Bosler Hall. 

“I do feel safe, primarily because I have a private office and building use is restricted,” said Copeland. “It is very quiet [in Bosler] these days… I do miss the casual chats in the hallways and faculty lounge, but I understand why this is not possible right now.”

Ultimately, facilities management staff members like Kostecky are proud of the precautions taken by the college. “We have put a lot of work into providing a safe environment for students, faculty, and staff,” said Kostecky. “We feel confident that we are in compliance with CDC guidelines. As these change, we will change, and we are ready to adjust as necessary.”