Herculean effort to prepare campus and set expectations among those returning

Photo of the exterior of West Gate at Mount Royal University.

Mount Royal has established a strong support system for students, faculty and staff to make sure those who need to be on campus are safe and know what is expected of them.

People across Mount Royal University have been working tirelessly to prepare the campus for the return of a limited number of students, faculty and staff — safely. With lots of moving parts in the return, many people have  played a big role in supporting these departments to ensure the safety of the community upon their return.

The Planning Ahead Team (PAT) is a central advisory and coordinating body responsible for engaging all areas of campus in preparing for the 2020/21 academic year. This central body engages with an Academic Working Group and a Services Working Group. PAT is not the Emergency Operations Centre and not business continuity planning, but acts as a bridge in between.

Jane O’Connor, University Secretary, and Peter Davison, Director of Security Services, co-led the pandemic EOC and then transitioned to co-facilitate the PAT.

O’Connor said, “The level of integration and the speed at which things need to be done is definitely heightened right now. A decision or issue in one area has a domino effect in many other areas, so coordination is so important. Getting ready for some people to be on campus has been a herculean effort thanks to many.”

As well, Davison explains that the authorities are constantly in contact with Mount Royal to make sure it is following government restrictions and guidelines. “We recently showed them our People Plan and what we were putting in place for the fall, and I think it’s safe to say they were really impressed with how thorough and consistent we are being.”

One of the first groups to return to campus in the summer were 59 Massage Therapy students. In many ways, the work to prepare for them set the standard for the future of how students with in-person learning exceptions would come back to campus. This included making changes to furniture arrangements in the facility, filling out daily wellness checks, introducing many hygiene protocols, reducing occupancy in spaces and keeping the area secure and locked.

Describing the two weeks of learning on campus, one student in a feedback form said, “I was very impressed with the measures put in place for our safety. They spared no effort to ensure the utmost safety for everyone. I can't think of a single thing they could've done on top of what was already in place.”

Massage Therapy Program Administrator Donna Palmer said, “I appreciated that there was an enormous amount of trust placed on our teams to safely relaunch face-to-face courses on campus. We also relied heavily on the service areas of the University to advise on or help implement our massage therapy reopening plans and the new protocols. The entire institution provided support and helped create the foundation for a safe relaunch.”

With more resources becoming available like the Welcome Back Page, Palmer envisions a successful return for those who have to be on campus because they will be more aware of the resources available and what is expected when they are on campus.

The Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) team is key to creating a safe environment. Tasked with setting up safety protocols for all who will be returning to campus, EH&S has had to be flexible as government guidelines change and new requirements arise on a day-to-day basis.

“The MRU community has handled this really well. Employees and students have been really patient as we try to figure this all out,” says Caroline Butler, the EH&S Officer. “The support we’ve received has been great because the PAT is made up of such a cross-section of the University and it’s helped us get a better understanding since there’s so many moving parts at Mount Royal.”

Another department at Mount Royal that has been essential to the success of the return to campus has been Facilities Management. By adjusting their building security requirements and cleaning protocols, they have been able to equip employees to maintain a high rate of sanitization in the high-risk areas on campus such as high touchpoint areas like elevators, doors and bathrooms.

Facilities Management employees are trained in an Incident Command System, which is a protocol process used across Canada to manage emergencies. Grant Sommerfeld, the Associate Vice-President of Facilities Management said this training helped the team respond swiftly and effectively to the challenges they have been presented with during the pandemic.

Sommerfeld said that “A lot of good messages came from senior leadership. It made a big difference in helping things go smoothly for us and the communication to the community was invaluable.”

Sommerfeld also said he feels that the culture at Mount Royal shifted over the course of the pandemic. “The institution really pulled together. Different departments became a lot more supportive and collaborative which made a big difference and made some of the challenges easier to deal with.”

There have also been some academic researchers on campus. The research enterprise has been growing at Mount Royal and according to Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President of the Academic Affairs Office, Michael Quinn, PhD, it was really important to not lose that momentum.

“We’re seeing more success in our external grant funding, for example, we have new Canada Research chairs and new Canada Foundation for Innovation grants, so we wanted to keep as much of that research going as possible,” he said. “We created a process where researchers could apply to come back to campus and those applications were reviewed by the deans, the research office, EH&S and the PAT.”

The review process considered why the research was important and how best to protect both the researchers and anyone involved and then also maintain a high level of safety for everyone else who might be on campus. With researchers doing work both on campus and in the field, there were many considerations put into the protocols to allow the research to be conducted safely no matter where it took place.

“It was a really successful process and I think faculty responded really well,” said Quinn. “The clear recognition from Mount Royal that research and scholarship is part of who we are showed that we are very strongly supported despite the challenges and costs.”

Mount Royal has established a strong support system for students, faculty and staff to make sure those who need to be on campus are safe and know what is expected of them. It has been an immense effort on behalf of many people that has required integration, flexibility and commitment.

Aug. 20, 2020 ― Zach Worden

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