Adapting Classrooms for 2020 – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Adapting Classrooms for 2020

With social distancing protocols in place for in-person classes, Hobart and William Smith faculty and students are teaching and learning in unusual spaces, from Scandling Campus Center to Bristol Gym. But “when it comes down to it,” says Associate Professor of Geoscience Nick Metz, who is teaching in the Barn, class meetings in these new spaces simply reflect “the same HWS I’ve grown to love…thoughtful students participating in class.”

Professor Kristin Slade teaches class in Winn Seeley Gymnasium.
Associate Professor of Chemistry Kristin Slade teaches class in Winn Seeley Gymnasium.

The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed colleges and universities across the country to think creatively about the logistics of education. Throughout the summer at HWS, staff from the Buildings and Grounds Office adapted spaces across campus that, while not traditional classrooms, offer the amenities of a typical semester and the safety needed in this unusual one.

In preparation to welcome back students and faculty this fall, Associate Vice President for Campus Safety Martin Corbett and Assistant Director of Operations Glenn Brubaker inspected and measured spaces to accommodate safety protocols for in-person learning. Every classroom, office, common space, residence hall and athletic and recreation facility on the HWS campus was assessed and, where necessary, modified and remodeled to ensure that social distancing of at least six feet could be maintained. In total, the Colleges modified 46 classrooms and added an additional 12 temporary classrooms, including the Barn, where changes include new lighting, climate controls, HVAC system and smart classroom technology. Filters on all campus HVAC systems were replaced with MERV-13 filters, the highest standard for COVID-19 filtration. Portable HEPA filtration units have also been added to most classroom spaces on campus.

Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robinson Murphy, who is also teaching in the Barn (pictured above), says the new classrooms there have “everything you need, and there’s lots of space for student group work. I would be happy teaching in there even after the pandemic.”

“These unprecedented times have called for unprecedented flexibility from our entire community, and I am immensely grateful for the collective efforts of so many staff on campus to prepare for a safe educational experience of the highest quality,” says Vice President for Campus Life Robb Flowers, who is managing the Colleges’ response to the pandemic.

Professor of Political Science Paul Passavant teaches class in Albright Auditorium.
Professor of Political Science Paul Passavant teaches class in Albright Auditorium.

Following the initial assessment of campus spaces, Project Manager Janine DeBolt developed scale renderings of each classroom (and potential classroom), including desks and furniture, to determine how best to allocate space.

“Two weeks before classes, we completed an inspection of all the rooms to make sure they were set up and then again the week before classes were to start. Housekeeping also did a final cleaning/disinfecting of all the rooms and made sure the disinfection kits were there,” DeBolt says.

In these rooms, seating and furnishings have been reduced and clear markings for seating and standing have been added to promote social distancing (six-foot circles surrounding desks and work spaces, and six foot spacing for lines or gathering points). Technology has also been updated to accommodate remote and hybrid learning.

“It’s different to have a student zooming into an in-person class, but the technology set up by IT makes this pretty straightforward. The flexibility shown by HWS in accommodating students with varying needs has been incredible,” says Metz, noting how students have similarly risen to the challenging times. “You never know how an unprecedented semester like this is going to run, but the students in my classes have helped to ensure that it will go as well as it possibly can. While things are different I have very much enjoyed getting back in the classroom with the students. It’s the very best part of my job!”

“Thanks to our rigorous prep work over the past several months, we’ve had success controlling and preventing COVID-19 on campus,” Flowers says. “The entire campus adapted quickly and if we can maintain that same sense of safety and attention to detail, we’ll be in great shape as we finish the academic year.”

For more on distancing in classrooms, see the Building Environmental Space Review Plan, which includes floor plans of every academic space on campus including seating charts.

For other information about the Colleges’ preparation for fall classes, or safety precautions in other areas of campus, visit the Fall 2020 Opening page.