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On-campus employees continue with 'business as usual' during uncertain times

Jeff ApttMarch 27, 2020

The global coronavirus pandemic has caused most businesses and places of employment to grind to a screeching halt in recent weeks, but many, including the Community College of Rhode Island, are still operational and rely on employees to keep operations running smoothly during this time of uncertainty.

At CCRI’s Knight Campus in Warwick, it’s business as usual for a number of key departments, even with all students and most employees operating remotely for the past two weeks.

Jeffrey Huyler, the college’s Building Systems Technician, has been on campus each day tending to most of the behind-the-scenes work, such as changing filters on rooftop air-conditioning units, and monitoring temperatures in various rooms throughout the building. Crews from the college and Nextgen Mechanical will be on the premises this weekend to perform preventative maintenance on the piping for the chillers that keep the college’s cooling towers running efficiently during the summertime.

“The building doesn’t stop just because no one is here,” Huyler said.

In these times of uncertainty, Huyler said he is taking the necessary precautions, including maintaining proper distance between other employees and sanitizing his workspace. He is particularly cautious around his father, who is now 70. Huyler also has a 16-year-old daughter who attends Cranston West High School and – along with more than 1,500 students from the school – has been under quarantine for two weeks after a classmate tested positive for COVID-19 in early March.

“If everyone does their part and stays home,” Huyler said, “it’ll be over a lot quicker.”

The Campus Bookstore also closed its doors to the public under the guidelines from Governor Gina Raimondo and the Rhode Island Department of Health, but remains as busy as ever with students transitioning to remote learning this past week. Ray Karasek, the college’s Auxiliary Services Business Director, credits CCRI’s Information Technology department with creating a smooth transition for employees to work remotely, especially with responsibilities mounting as the spring semester wind downs.

“Hats off to them,” said Karasek, who spent Friday afternoon at the Knight Campus distributing iPads to students who do not have the necessary technology to complete their online courses.

“The bookstore really never closes, so we’re lucky to have such a good online presence.  We’ve really been on the front lines in terms of making sure the students have what they need to continue their classes. We’ve worked with publishers to be able to get some free online materials and members of our staff been coming in daily to ship out books if they need to.”

Bookstore Manager Tiffany McClay, who was on call at the Knight Campus Friday, described the empty campus as “surreal.” The large screen in the Great Hall is temporarily shut off, creating an eerie silence in what is an otherwise bustling space. Hallways on the sixth floor – the hub of student activity on a typical school day – are unusually dark and quiet. All parking lots are empty with the exception of a few scattered vehicles. 

“When I walked in, it felt like a ghost town,” she said. “It’s not something you’d ever expect to be a part of.”

Despite the emptiness on campus, resources such as the Bookstore remain busier than ever. McClay says staff members have kept up to speed through WebEx – “at least once or twice a week,” she says, “even if it’s just to check in on everyone’s health” – and at least one employee has been on campus each day to help with sorting packages and managing invoices so that the store will be ready if and when it reopens. Staff members are also busy shipping online orders for books and other materials, which have increased since the campus stores closed.

McClay said the Bookstore is also planning a social distancing sale next month in which everything – except textbooks – will be 25 percent off with free shipping, the latter which includes the textbooks.

The remaining employees on campus all play different roles to ensure nothing slips between the cracks between now and when everyone eventually returns to campus, but they all have one thing in common – additional caution during this unprecedented moment in history.

“I’m not leaving home unless I have to leave,” McClay said, “and when I do, I’ve got the hand sanitizer in my back pocket.”

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