Building Crews Stay Busy During Pandemic | WGLT

Building Crews Stay Busy During Pandemic

Jun 15, 2020

Many buildings in Bloomington-Normal have largely sat idle for months during the pandemic, but maintenance crews still have work to do and in some cases they've taken advantage of the time to work ahead.

Austin McKee trims grass outside the Bloomington Area Career Center.
Credit Eric Stock / WGLT

Colin Manahan is chief financial and facilities officer for District 87 schools. The nearly one dozen schools and other facilities in the district have been largely empty since mid-March when stay-at-tome orders took effect. Manahan said the district sent some maintenance and custodial staff home until May, but he said the buildings can't be neglected.

“Even though we might not have kids and teaching staff in the buildings during these planned breaks, 12-month staff is always there,” Manahan said.

Manahan said maintenance crews check each building several times a week to make sure all systems are working, similar to what they would do during summer and holiday breaks.

“Several things you would do at your home we do in the buildings, turn the faucets on for five minutes, flush the toilets, things of that nature, to avoid having stagnant water per se, to make sure things are operating properly and make sure we don’t have any sewage backup,” he said.

Running water is key because if it sits stagnant it can become a breeding ground for bacteria, including Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's disease.

Mike Gebeke, associate vice president of facilities management at Illinois State University, said the bacteria is not only a problem in water.

“Legionella was first found in Philadelphia and it was in the air systems because of the cooling towers,” Gebeke said. “All of our cooling towers and water systems for that type of thing are treated and none of that treatment stops when everything (was closed).”

The science laboratory at Illinois State University is one of the few buildings on campus to be operating close to normal during the pandemic.
Credit WGLT

Gebeke said a scaled-down maintenance and custodial staff has been running water and doing regular maintenance to keep ISU's nearly 200 buildings and other facilities ready for when students and staff return.

“Even though they weren’t fully occupied, we were at least running water during the time we had people off campus,” Gebeke said. “If you want to have a building to go back to, we have to maintain it while it’s closed.”

ISU is starting to reopen campus this week and tentatively plans to resume in-person classes starting Aug. 17, but it will likely be a blended format.

Gebeke said the university’s science laboratory building is one of the few building on campus that has been largely uninterrupted by the stay-at-home order because instructors needed access to the labs for research and to teach online.

The extended closure also affords schools the chance to move further down their upkeep checklist. Joe Adelman, executive director of operations for Unit 5 schools, Adelman said the district got a head start on summer projects including insalling a new geothermal system at Kingsley Junior High in Normal.

“We were able to do so much painting and actually strip floors down,” Adelman said. “Usually we only have 46 days when schools get out until school starts, so we have utilized this time. It’s been very beneficial to our district.”

Adelman said another added benefit of the school closings, the district should see considerable energy savings.

Schools aren’t the only buildings that have been seen more limited use during the pandemic. State Farm employees in Bloomington have been working from home since mid-March.

State Farm’s Director of Facilities Management Jeff Samp said the company continues to have some essential staff in operations and maintenance working in its local facilities.

“The essential facility staff continuously monitors key systems and maintains them to industry best-practice standards, including all heating, ventilation and cooling, air filtration and potable water,” Samp said. “Even though potable water fixtured like drinking foundation, ice water machines and restrooms have been exercised during this period of limited occupancy, they will be checked prior to larger employee groups re-entering and occupying the facilities.”

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