As Elon students settle into campus and begin classes, Director of Building Trades Tim Dengler said that Physical Plant is working vigilantly to ensure the Elon community has a safe and healthy 2020-2021 academic year.
With the onset of COVID-19 and certain restrictions and guidelines, Dengler said that Physical Plant has implemented specific protocols into their daily routine, none of which takes time away from or diminish the quality of their work.
Physical Plant has extensive responsibilities in both operating and maintaining the university’s facilities and infrastructure. Dengler said that since March, Physical Plant workers have taken great responsibility and precautions for COVID-19 to protect themselves and the Elon community.
Students, faculty and staff will see proof of Physical Plant’s dedication to ensuring safety all across campus, Dengler said, with plexiglass in areas where close proximity to one another is likely and signage enforcing physical distancing around campus.
Physical Plant’s Tasks
Dengler, who said that he has a background in civil engineering and that at Elon, he is primarily in charge of all of the facilities on campus, managing the carpentry shop, key shop, paint shop, in addition to the moving and setup departments.
“To sum it up, we do reactive maintenance,” Dengler said. “That’s students, faculty and staff putting in work orders [for things such as] browning ceiling tiles, squeaky doors or a broken headboard.”
According to Dengler, Physical Plant works to get ahead of all those problems with preventive maintenance. On a recurring basis, the team goes around inspecting roofs, looking at windows, the exterior of buildings, and any areas that can fail easily or often.
“Even before the university had gone with the mask policy, here in Physical Plant because of the nature of our work ... we were wearing masks very early on just to make sure we weren’t spreading anything,” Dengler said. “We didn’t want the whole shop to get sick at once. So, using those protocols — handwashing, not sharing tools, trying to keep as separate as we can — are things we put in place to ensure if someone got sick that we could isolate them and that it wouldn’t spread to the rest of the department.”
This year, Physical Plant had all of their typical summer tasks with dorm maintenance in addition to extra safety work, such as building plexiglass shields and putting signage around campus.
Dengler said that even with new protocols and precautions in place, he was impressed with the work his team has done and continues to do all around campus.
Following COVID-19 Guidelines
Dengler said that Physical Plant continues to abide by university guidelines while maintaining and producing quality work.
According to carpentry shop supervisor Eric Hill, more than 110 plexiglass shields have been installed in various offices and anywhere that will have a lot of contact between students and staff.
In addition, more than 300 sanitation stations, both wall-mounted and free-standing, have been put in classrooms and meeting areas, and over 1,000 physical distancing floor and seating signs has been installed.
Carpenter of 20 years Jonathan Brown has become an expert on building plexiglass shields.
“It has been a lot of trial and error,” Brown said. “Now, I can get them made both quickly and efficiently. Repetition is key; you really get used to it.”
Hill said that Physical Plant will continue to install more plexiglass shields and signage to promote physical distancing.
“We really believe in the precautions the university is taking, and we think we are working in a safe environment,” Dengler said. “We have actually gotten more work done this year than we have in the past just because we are so focused and efficient.”
The carpentry department is not just responsible for carpentry work; rather, they handle anything that has to be fixed.
“We are the general maintenance men, but we have a carpentry tile,” Hill said. “We do a whole lot of things all over, outside and inside. For our department, we take care of the outside of the buildings, roofing, the only thing that we don’t take care of is heating and air, plumbing and electrical, but basically, everything else falls under us.”
During the school week, a regular workday for a carpentry shop worker is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hill said that Physical Plant follows a set schedule and that they are primarily concerned with fulfilling work orders turned in by students, faculty and staff. Once caught up with work orders, they focus on roof repairs, cleaning gutters and any outside maintenance on the building.
Even when all the work orders have been taken care of, there is still more work to be done.
“As a college goes, there is more and more stuff to do throughout the day,” Hill said. “We always have something to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s a work order or not; we are always busy and working on something.”
Tending to work orders and doing maintenance fills up the majority of the day.
Continuing the job
Although precautions with COVID-19 are widespread, Hill said that Physical Plant workers are still willing to work with anybody, inside or outside.
“I think that the most important part of our job is that we can show people that we can still do our job here, and everybody can maintain a level of normalcy as much as they can,” Dengler said. “Everything has changed since March, but with us still being here over the summer, we still continued to work as normal, taking a lot more precautions.”
Although the atmosphere has changed, Dengler said that Physical Plant workers are still able to provide a level and service and timeliness on that service.
“We wanted to show the campus that we are still here to help everybody out and that they can call if they need us,” Dengler said.
Dengler said he and his team are excited to have everyone back on campus.
“We have spent a lot of hours planning and preparing for school to open,” Dengler said. “Now that students have returned and faculty have returned and some staff has returned, we are really happy to see everyone back. Yes, it is different than it has ever been, but it’s a community here, so to get everyone back on campus is a really good feeling.”