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NMU reconfiguring classroom capacities

Social distancing to be in place

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University is taking safety measures before the start of the fall semester, which is set to begin on Aug. 17 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Social distancing is at the forefront of some efforts.

NMU is reconfiguring most classrooms to align with 6-foot social distancing guidelines and installing plexiglass barriers in others to enhance student safety in advance of the semester.

“Capacities in most classrooms have been reduced by 50%, give or take, depending on the type of room,” said Jim Thams, director of facilities and campus planning, in a news release. “In Jamrich Hall, a lot of the furniture is on wheels and portable. For those rooms, we’ve placed markers on the floor to indicate where the center of the tables should be placed and in-house carpenters are making barriers to install between the two seats at each trapezoid table in Jamrich.”

Thams said that in the lecture-style classrooms with tiered seating and fixed tables, barriers are being affixed in front of each seat to provide separation between the rows.

There are, however, some limitations.

“In fixed auditoriums, there’s not much you can do with barriers,” Thams said. “We had to establish 6-foot distancing. In the Jamrich auditorium, that means only every other row and every fourth seat in each row can be occupied. There will be markers for where students can and can’t sit. The capacity of that room is reduced from 500 to 130.”

Thams said the conversion process began more than a month ago. NMU Facilities first performed an exercise in computer-aided design to see what capacities would be, then went out into the field with a lower-tech tape measure and adjusted the numbers.

Thams provided the capacities to the NMU Registrar’s Office to schedule classrooms based on the adjusted enrollment.

Rob Winn, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the goal was to get as many classes as possible into rooms that would accommodate at least 50% of their enrollment that will allow faculty to teach a subset of their class face to face at each class session.

Some flexibility will be needed.

“However, we are asking faculty to be creative in how they approach these modified on-campus classes,” Winn said in a news release. “Some faculty will have students present in the room and at the same time use Zoom to reach the rest of the class in a synchronous fashion. We have invested in additional AV equipment such as new document cameras to facilitate these interactions.”

For others, he said, the faculty will meet with part of their class while the rest of the students are working on assignments, watching recorded materials or other activities. In the next class session, the students’ roles will be reversed.

“Many faculty are planning to use the flipped classroom model,” Winn said. “They will post lectures online and then have discussion and other learning activities with the students in person. We have asked our faculty to be creative in how they modify their on-campus courses and I am confident that they will be up to the challenge.”

The plan for labs depends on the discipline, Thams said, and whether the work can be performed individually. Departments with labs that require collaboration are working through how to accommodate that with appropriate personal protective equipment.

Signs are being placed at building entrances and outside each classroom reminding students of the requirement to wear masks. Additional signs at building entrances promote the importance of mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

Bulk PPE orders needed

NMU has implemented a centralized ordering and distribution system for PPE to obtain bulk quantities of critical COVID-19-related items at a significant cost reduction.

“We were tasked with securing PPE for the return to campus this fall and sustaining those supplies throughout the year,” said Lee Gould, NMU safety/fire marshal, in a news release. “When local companies’ suppliers ran out of stock on some products, we partnered with Fisher Scientific, a national company that prefers working with clients who order in bulk.”

Instead of each department ordering its own limited quantities at a higher cost when there’s a national shortage, NMU can centralize the order to get a mass quantity at a discount, Gould said.

Gould said Kimberly-Clark, a partner of Fisher Scientific, sponsors a RightCycle recycling program for single-use nitrile gloves.

“We’re putting blue RightCycle bins across campus where people can place their gloves after use,” Gould said. “The safety department will collect them and ship them to West Virginia, where they will be recycled for making outdoor furniture instead of going to the landfill.”

Gould said he was surprised to learn that NMU departments, ranging from athletics to biology, typically use 175,000 gloves annually. NMU increased its order to 250,000 gloves for the coming academic year in response to COVID-19.

NMU has also obtained 250 touchless, NMU-branded hand-sanitizing stations for common areas, vestibules and elevators, with more on order. Other PPE being purchased in bulk include wipes, gowns, face shields and N95 respirators. Gould said N95s were pricing at $14 each, but NMU’s bulk discount through Fisher Scientific brought it down to $2 each.

University departments can order supplies online through a centralized system developed by NMU IT personnel. Occupational and environmental health specialist Kim Hegmegee, along with about a half-dozen NMU students, assist Gould in tracking supplies in a warehouse in the Services Building and distributing them to departments.

Grants still available

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation reminds Michigan’s small businesses and nonprofits working to recover from the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 virus that there is still time to apply for grants of up to $20,000 through the Michigan Small Business Restart Program.

The program, announced in July, will provide $100 million in economic assistance to the state’s small businesses and nonprofits, and help support workers and their families facing economic uncertainty during the outbreak.

The deadline for applications is Wednesday. Information on how to apply, as well as eligibility criteria and program guidelines, are available at michiganbusiness.org/ restart.

A total of 30% of funding must be awarded to eligible women-, minority- or veteran-owned businesses.

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