How do facilities and estates managers prepare to reopen a complex site, with multiple activities and guidelines that frequently change? Lucy Black explains
The UK’s 165 universities have a total floor area of about 22,500,000 square metres – equivalent to 53 Shards. They house offices, lecture theatres, seminar rooms, laboratories, workshops, libraries, performance spaces, galleries, clinical teaching wards, art studios, sports facilities, catering outlets and nurseries, with state-of-the-art equipment supporting world-class research. There is also a significant residential estate, housing students in halls owned by the university, or provided by third parties in partnership arrangements.
Nearly 2.4 million students attend UK universities. We need students to feel confident about campus safety when they return to or begin university this autumn.
Estates and facilities teams have continued to keep campuses safe and secure during lockdown, supporting access for critical research and providing equipment to the NHS and housing to a significant number of students unable to leave. We are now all engaged in preparing to welcome back students and colleagues. Here’s what we should be considering.
1. Work closely with colleagues
Collaborate with others in your institution, across the sector and within FM generally. Academic ‘customers’ are reorganising education in a short period, which must integrate with where and how we provide space and services.
Although customers can generally define what they want, current circumstances make this joint work.
Estates and facilities professionals across the sector are collaborating, particularly through the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) so join the webinars and forums that they and many other bodies are hosting.
There is no manual for what we are doing; it is like Gromit laying the tracks in front of the train in The Wrong Trousers and we all need to learn together. Share the workload within your own team; we all need to support each other.
2. Ensure that your building plans and data are up to date
You will need these to calculate the capacities of teaching spaces, plan circulation routes, identify pinch points and, as the basis for work on the ground, install signage and distance markers.
3. Resist pressure
The market has been quick to produce technical solutions from cleaning products and hand sanitiser stations to temperature-checking technology – expect inboxes full of sales pitches. Make sure that they are solving your problems and would work in your setting. Give yourself time to consider your solutions and try to resist the pressure for quick answers.
Enhanced cleaning of touchpoints is likely to come from a mixed economy of more frequent cleaning from your cleaning teams and enabling all university staff to clean touchpoints during the day. The challenge of keeping teaching rooms clean is being considered by most universities at the time of writing.
4. Do not waste the crisis
Use the opportunity to embed improvements – lockdown has demonstrated that new ways of working can be introduced. FMs need to lead universities in understanding how to optimise the use of the estate and give staff a better working experience, supporting flexibility for staff. Service changes may also be possible. This is a chance to focus the campus on the needs of your students and enhance their experience, reduce the carbon impact and improve the institution’s sustainability.
5. Communicate People
coming back into buildings do not know all the preparation that has gone into making them safe so provide clear information about what we are doing and why, using graphics and words. Design posters and signage that can flex as guidance changes without the need for full reprints – covering a large estate takes time and money.
Lucy Black is head of facilities and student accommodation at the University of Plymouth, chair of the AUDE Strategic FM group and an IWFM Board member