Building readiness

Teams across Carolina are working to ensure classrooms and offices are ready when employees return on July 19.

person with a vacuum cleaner on their back
Facilities Services employees are cleaning all of the buildings. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Carolina faculty and staff who have been working remotely for the past 15 months will return to campus on July 19.

While many buildings have been empty since then, staff from several departments, with guidance from Environment, Health and Safety, have been maintaining the buildings and ensuring they are ready.

Here are some things to know:

Air quality and ventilation

Improving air quality through ventilation and filtration are just two ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Buildings across campus have been reviewed and evaluated for properly operating ventilation systems, said Cathy Brennan, director, Environment, Health and Safety. These systems deliver fresh outside air to building spaces. Damaged and in-operable components, including outside air dampers, have been repaired or replaced.

Where possible, Facilities Services has upgraded filters to a MERV 13 rating or higher, as recommended by guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MERV stands for minimum efficiency reporting value. The higher the filter number, the more efficient it is and the smaller the particles it captures.

For classroom spaces with window air conditioners, supplemental high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units are being installed where necessary. HEPA filter units have also been deployed in dining areas, performance spaces and at COVID-19 testing sites.

One of the positive things that’s come from the pandemic is the collaboration between EHS and Facilities. “I think the coordination between our groups has grown throughout the pandemic,” Brennan said. “As a result of our COVID-19 response, we have developed interdisciplinary teams between the groups in order to come to the best solutions.”

Cindy Register, assistant director of engineering services, agreed. Upgrading the filters in buildings not only improves the air quality, but the filters are more energy efficient. During the pandemic, Facilities created a database of campus systems to track filter type and a timeline for regular replacement.

Brennan noted that ventilation is only a fraction of all the things that can be done to mitigate COVID-19 transmission. “The number one thing you can do is to get vaccinated, if you can,” she said. “Ventilation is one small piece of it.”

Water and lights

Throughout the pandemic, Building Services has ensured water in all of the buildings was regularly flushed to remove stagnant or standing water, including running faucets and water fountains and flushing toilets, said Todd Going, director of Building Services.

During this time, Facilities Services employees have remained on campus to care for buildings. Going said he worked to keep current with changing guidelines and ensure staff were safe during their work.

Teams also checked lighting, generators and building exits to ensure everything is working properly as it is programmed to do, he said.


Carolina’s buildings have continued to be cleaned during the pandemic, thanks to employees in Housekeeping. Their work evolved as the CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfection changed, said Herb Richmond, director of Housekeeping.

“Our staff has been here throughout the whole ordeal, and I commend them for that,” Richmond said. “They were working to keep faculty, staff and students safe.”

Ahead of the return on July 19, Richmond’s team will disinfect each classroom, even though the rooms haven’t been occupied for many months.

Moving furniture in classrooms

In preparation for the return last fall in 2020, furniture in about 80 classrooms in 30 to 40 buildings was removed to accommodate for physical distancing, and stickers were placed on classroom floors and in the hallways to remind people to keep their distance.

Crews are currently cleaning and returning that furniture to the appropriate classrooms and removing stickers on the floors, Richmond said.

Housekeeping is making sure floors are cleaned and waxed, giving the classrooms a “first day of school smell,” Richmond said.

Hand sanitizer and wipes will remain, with stations adequately spaced in the buildings.

“We had a lot of really good people who stood up in a tough time [from the beginning of the pandemic] and really shined,” Going said of Facilities Services employees. “This time revealed a lot of diamonds in our department.”

What employees can do

Do your part to keep campus buildings and offices clean and safe:

  • Dust your workspace. Dust accumulates on books and papers, and it moves around the room, reducing air quality.
  • Report issues with air temperature and humidity.
  • If you see something that needs attention from Facilities, fill out a request for service.
  • If you have concerns about the air quality in your building, request an evaluation.

More information is available at Carolina’s Returning to Work on Campus website.