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W&M project reconfigures campus to comply with physical distancing

  • Timothy Russell
    Physical distancing:  Timothy Russell, William & Mary's university space manager, measures the space between seated students. He was working in a classroom in the Integrated Science Center that has a normal capacity of 30 students, but was reconfigured for 18 with 6-foot spacing to meet COVID-19 guidelines.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Having spent the past four years compiling classroom information, all Timothy Russell ’90 had to do was access it and overlay the new COVID-19 guidelines.

But inventorying every space on William & Mary’s campus, and then applying physical distancing regulations onto new and converted instructional spaces, has taken cooperation from departments far and wide, according to Russell. It started with work he had already done.

“One of the things I was hired to do was to take all of the buildings on campus and turn them into digital floor plans that they did not have them in,” said Russell, university space manager in Facilities Management. “So four years later, I’m finally finishing up in amongst everything else.”


This was valuable because having an inventory in digital format for both spaces and floor plans and in tabular format meant the he could select groups of spaces down to the level of sorting by conference room or classroom category or by department. He used this to determine the maximum occupancy of each space on campus to comply with physical distancing requirements during the pandemic, as well as new spaces that have been added for instruction and spaces that were too small to be used.

Russell worked hand-in-hand with University Registrar Sallie Marchello, who was coordinating registration for courses that range from in-person to remote to blended.

“Tim and his colleagues determined ‘COVID capacities’ for large instructional spaces, for our public classrooms and for dozens of departmentally-controlled rooms — nearly 250 spaces in all,” Marchello said. “Then, the academic scheduling staff in University Registrar’s Office and the graduate schools began the arduous task of relocating instruction. 

“Obviously, the classes shifting to fully-remote instruction no longer need regular classroom space, but those meeting face-to-face or in blended mode had to be moved to larger rooms for appropriate social distancing. That work continues and should be completed by week’s end.”

Russell met with Director of Facilities, Planning Design and Construction Gregg Shipp and Director of Operations & Maintenance Jim Sirinakis early on to decide on a strategy. They opted to categorize existing classrooms in groups then send small teams out to evaluate rooms for features that couldn’t be seen on electronic blueprints.

“The first thing was categorizing information,” Russell said. “Once we were able to do that, we looked at a number of other schools and what they had done. I reached out to a number of space managers at all the other Virginia schools that I keep in contact with.”

He took all the details from the W&M campus site visits and prioritized the needs. Russell overlaid the electronic floor plans with a grid that looks like a fishnet, which allowed him to simulate where to space people so that they are the required six feet apart.

Because details such as a podium or attached piece of furniture aren’t part of the blueprints available, Russell then sent a printout to team members to make a visit and evaluate anything that could potentially require augmentations to the capacity.

“And so what it allowed me to do was continue to make and give an idea of roughly what I think the capacity would be,” Russell said.

They also used tape on floors and walls along with a 6-foot PVC pipe while moving desks around to check the capacity of spaces.

Every space will be augmented in some way, either by moving furniture further apart or marking off seats for non-use, Russell said. Labeling will mark clearly areas and seats that can and cannot be used.

Currently the list of existing and newly-created instructional spaces stands at approximately 245. They include quite a few repurposed areas.

In Sadler Center, Commonwealth A, B and C will be combined into a lecture hall and Commonwealth Auditorium will be used. Other spaces likely to be used for classes are the Kimball Theatre, the Wightman Cup Room and Person Room in Kaplan Arena, Trinkle Hall in the Campus Center and the McGlothlin Suite in Zable Stadium. The Law School will hold some large lectures in the McCormack–Nagelsen Tennis Center.

Outdoor spaces such as the Sunken Garden and Martha Wren Briggs Amphitheatre with or without tent coverings are being considered for ad hoc class meetings, as well as for student group activities. Two post-graduate fellows at the Center for Geospatial Analysis are mapping available outdoor spaces for reference, according to Russell.

Specialized situations such as labs and studio space in the arts will be handled on a case-by-case basis depending upon numbers of students, needs and planned activities, according to Russell.

John Drummond, technology spaces strategist, has been the point person in Information Technology.

“I have been working with IT Client Services, the IT Business Office, the Studio for Teaching & Learning Innovation, the Registrar’s Office, W&M Procurement and W&M Facilities all summer to prepare de-densified teaching spaces for blended instruction, including some where classes have not been traditionally scheduled,” Drummond said.

“It has been a collaborative endeavor as complex procurement, space management, COVID mitigation and technology selection and installation tasks all take place in parallel.”

Considerations have included adding basic classroom technology to spaces not previously used for teaching and making sure all areas to be used for instruction are electronically set up for both in-person and blended learning, according to Drummond.

Russell said the current challenge has brought him into contact with numerous people he has only known peripherally and had few interactions with previously to accomplish the university’s task at hand.

“It’s great to be involved in the team that is pushing to make the experience as safe and as special for the incoming freshmen and the seniors who are leaving so that they get the best out of it,” Russell said. “And I think that we’re going to be able to provide as best a safe environment as we can for the incoming students. And then we will kind of adapt and roll with situations as they occur.”