Submitted by The Evergreen State College
The Evergreen State College is known for its beautiful 1000-acre campus; lesser known is the team of people that keep the buildings and grounds going for Greeners.
When most of the Evergreen community pivoted to a remote world filled with online meetings and classes at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 55 people who make up the facilities team kept things running at both the Olympia and Tacoma campuses, and remained working onsite. They continued caring for the grounds and the 1.6 million square feet of building space owned and operated by the college.
The switch for students, most staff and faculty from an in-person, on-campus way of life to remote learning and work, gave the facilities team an opportunity to incorporate COVID safety practices and identify many new ways to work safely while keeping the campuses operational. The team instituted higher cleaning and sanitation standards; added hundreds of signs related to COVID around the campus; modified and upgraded building HVAC systems, purchased and deployed air purification systems, masks, sanitation supplies and helped support COVID-recommended activities.
William Ward, Evergreen’s chief administrative officer, oversees the tireless facilities team. He is proud of the work this team has achieved during an extremely difficult time. He reflects on the dedication of this group when saying, “I couldn’t be prouder of this team. They left the safety of their homes to look after the safety of the Evergreen community, as well as one another.”
During the pandemic, the facilities team also worked on restoration projects including the Thunderbird, which greets visitors to the Olympia campus’s Longhouse and making needed fixes to the flooring and kitchen at Evergreen’s Organic Farm. Throughout the pandemic’s different phases of mask requirements, they also made sure signage was out and correct to help ensure that the Evergreen community was following current mitigation standards to keep the virus at bay.
The team also managed numerous capital projects including upgrading the HVAC system in the college’s laboratory building, heating systems, improving the lighting on Evergreen Parkway and completing the new Student Wellness Center. Facilities continued their work prioritizing sustainability and energy conservation, saving over $700,000 in utility costs with capital projects and innovative maintenance practices that reduce energy use. Each of these and future planned projects will benefit the college by reducing operating costs, providing better instructional areas and improve the student experience, with the goal of saving up to $1 million in the fiscal year 2022.
Now, facilities staff are ensuring the college is ready for fuller parking lots, busier common areas and readying themselves for the ever-changing climate we all live in due to COVID-19. This team has had to continually pivot during the pandemic which has them feeling ready for the return of in-person classes at Evergreen.
The resiliency of the team was also seen in their understanding of the new needs of the Evergreen community that has been brought on during the pandemic. Ward explained, “I am grateful for the steadfast work and support of my team and so many college and community members helping to improve needed services to students including COVID testing and vaccination events on campus, the pop-up food bank and the new Student Needs and Social Justice centers.”
Being ever-evolving is something that Greeners have always been known for and the facilities staff have taken that to heart. They’ve risen to the occasion and surpassed all expectations during a time where public health situations on top of the day-to-day, typical business of maintaining the college, are compounded.