Campus buildings are ready when employees return

As department leaders plan for increased campus operations this summer into the fall and alter their spaces to keep employees and students safe, they may have questions about their building systems. Inside talked with facilities services director Bob Currie, facilities planning and management (FPM), about what's occurred in buildings closed since spring break.


Do units need to ask FPM to restore heating, cooling and ventilation systems in their building?

No. Building heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, which were switched to setback mode in mid-March, actually were returned in mid-May to normal mode, which includes bringing in outside air. "Normal" meets the current codes for filtration and ventilation, so from that perspective, buildings are ready for occupancy.


In light of the pandemic, has the university made any changes to air handling systems -- or practices -- that would help keep employees safe?

Facilities staff remained on campus the last three months to complete preventive maintenance of building systems and do additional cleaning to keep campus in a state of readiness for the return of faculty, staff and students. New air filters and regularly disinfecting common space touch points are some examples of changes we've made this spring.


Should I be concerned my building's ventilation system could transmit the coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates the risk of transmission through building ventilation systems likely is very low. Indoors, a higher risk would come from failing to respect the physical distancing recommendation of 6 feet between individuals.


As an extra precaution, can we ask that the fresh air intake be increased?

In some buildings it's possible, but adjustments that add outdoor air will negatively impact indoor temperature and humidity -- and thus occupant comfort. Controlling temperature and humidity levels for the comfort of employees in that space is the priority. Excess humidity also can impact the performance of sensitive equipment, damage building components and create mold growth.


How about water systems in campus buildings? Do those need to be flushed prior to employees returning?

They are ready as well. Since mid-March and on a weekly schedule, maintenance teams have been flushing the water lines to keep both hot and cold water systems fresh.


Where should we send questions about air handling or water systems for specific buildings?

The systems should be in normal operation mode. If you suspect an error or a breakdown in your building, call FPM's 24-hour service line, 294-5100.