Campus Readiness | Annual Report 2020

Annual Report 2020

Campus Readiness

As the pandemic bore down, Lehigh put new protocols in place to help keep the Lehigh community safe. Many of the changes were visible to those on campus: plexiglass shielding and sanitizing stations. Others were less visible. Lehigh's "essential" employees provided support.

Brent Stringfellow

Brent Stringfellow

Associate Vice President of Facilities/University Architect

What was the immediate impact on Lehigh Facilities, which oversees 164 campus buildings and more than 2,300 acres of land on three campuses, when the pandemic forced Lehigh to go remote?

The most immediate impact was understanding which buildings were still operational for essential employees, and which were vacant. We had to reorganize our custodial and maintenance efforts accordingly. In addition, as with other departments on campus, we reorganized our work schedules to minimize the number of people who needed to come to work each day to minimize the potential for spread amongst the staff. This became critical with functions like the central plants which required staffing at all times to remain operational.

How did Pennsylvania’s statewide shutdown impact Lehigh’s construction projects?

The initial governor’s order in March suspended all construction activity with the exception of any work related to public health and safety (such as hospitals and other medical facilities). As none of our projects qualified for this exemption, we were forced to halt our construction work on campus. This was most visible with the Singleton, Hitch and Maida residential houses and the Health, Science and Technology Building. Although construction work was again permitted at the end of April, the delay in time from the shutdown, implementation of new safety procedures, and remobilization caused considerable impact on the schedules. Singleton, Hitch and Maida houses were originally due to open for the Fall 2020 semester; with the delay this extended to the beginning of November. HST is still tracking for completion in Fall 2021, but may not be fully open by the first day of class.

How did Lehigh Facilities prepare for students’ safe return in fall? What were the visible changes to campus?

The various signs we installed over the summer are probably the most visible change, as well as locating sanitizing stations and cleaning products throughout our buildings. We also rearranged interior spaces to account for social distancing guidelines, which included removing furniture or taping seats off. Plexiglass shielding was installed in high-traffic transaction areas, as well as dining areas, for additional protection. And finally, some upgrades to our exterior spaces, whether the tents used for study spaces and testing, the additional Adirondack chairs or the so-called “crop circles” we painted on the UC lawn to mark out appropriate social distancing when gathered outside.

What additional steps were taken that might not have been as visible?

There was a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get preparations in place, whether analyzing our classrooms to determine maximum occupancy with social distancing or developing a process with the academic departments for submitting safety plans for every research lab on campus. In addition, our custodial and maintenance crews had to be flexible in adapting to changing needs and conditions as they arose, in particular for areas with students in quarantine or isolation.

Karen Sicinski, nurse and nutritionist at Lehigh's Health and Wellness Center

Karen Sicinski, nurse and nutritionist at Lehigh's Health and Wellness Center

Campus Community

Our Essential Workers

The term "essential workers" took on new meaning in the Spring 2020 semester as the COVID-19 pandemic forced almost everyone off campus.

"We have a designation for essential employees that was designed around snow storms and weather emergencies," said Chris Halladay, associate vice president of human resources. "It looked a bit different this time."

Those staying behind provided support to students still in residence halls, maintained university facilities and kept the campus community safe. But in the March shutdown, Lehigh's essential workers also came to include Health & Wellness Center staff, who monitored for COVID-19 and took care of students, and the Library and Technological Services (LTS) network infrastructure team, who helped faculty quickly transition their courses to online formats.

All told, about 90 employees in essential roles worked rotating shifts 24/7 or came to campus as needed during the shutdown, Halladay said. In addition to LTS and Health & Wellness Center staff, that included boiler operators and maintenance technicians, residential life staff and Lehigh University police officers. Lehigh also had a number of contractors on campus who cleaned buildings and maintained the campuses, as well as prepared and served food to students.

The employees were outfitted with N95 masks or other protective gear to help keep them safe. Boiler operators and others worked on intact teams and shifts to minimize risk.

"Essential staff are [the ones who] keep the students fed and warmed and housed," Halladay said. "That's the traditional sense. Now we also say, they keep them healthy—and they keep them connected."

7,100 Pieces of signage (floor banners, floor decals, door and window stickers, table tents, etc.) printed and installed
725 Plexiglass barriers installed
13,500 feet Amount of yellow safety tape utilized
Interior of new residential facility

Residential Living

An Evolving Campus

After a delay caused by the pandemic, construction was completed in November 2020 on three new residential facilities—the Singleton, Hitch and Maida residential houses— that will house a total of 405 students. Because of the pandemic, occupancy was to be reduced to about 200 students for the Spring 2021 semester.

The new complex supports Lehigh's plan to expand the student body and elevate students' living and learning experiences. In addition to state-of-the-art living spaces, its public spaces are open to the Lehigh community and contain a 2,000-square-foot fitness center, cafe, game room, conference rooms, dance studio and multiple study lounges. The exterior of the buildings has 38 different shapes of bricks.

Among the unique features are green rooftops, which are a key component of a storm water control strategy, in conjunction with bioswales and detention basins, to mitigate the impact of heavy rains. The buildings have numerous sustainability features, and Lehigh is pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of silver or higher.

The Singleton House is named for Charlot and Dennis Singleton '66. Hitch House is named for Julie '20P '21P and Jordan Hitch '88 '20P '21P, and the Maida House is named after Sharon '17P '19P and James Maida '85 '17P '19P.

The complex marks the first phase of a two-phase project that will include another three residential facilities designed to integrate academic and student life.