With the COVID-19 pandemic, policies in schools and other institutions have dramatically changed in order to stop or slow down the spread. Social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands frequently are just three of the many important habits to keep in order to protect one another from catching the virus.
Another significant routine is simply keeping buildings and classrooms as clean as possible. The back2classroom function at NJIT has allowed students to remotely determine if and when they would like to attend their classes in person. According to the manager of Custodial Services, Henry Rzemieniewski, “all classrooms that are in use need to be sanitized after every other class. Classroom capacities have been cut in half with colored dots placed on all chairs [to create] designated seating” as different students come in and out. The ones who carry out this critical cleaning are the unsung heroes of NJIT’s community: the staff of Facilities Services.
Associate vice president of Facilities Services Ronald Martucci, spoke about the staff being “continuously onsite since day one of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” These dedicated members have “persevered and stepped up to meet the challenge of additional vacancies and operating and personnel budgets impacted by the pandemic,” according to Martucci. They take care of all the public areas on campus, which includes “maintaining, repairing, servicing and sanitizing the entire campus to ensure it is safe and operational for all students, faculty, staff and visitors.”
Director of Building Services Charlie Nieves emphasized the increased stress that comes with such an indispensable task. He mentioned, “We all report to work every day and are concerned about bringing the virus home to our families.” Unfortunately, he contracted the virus recently, but he is successfully recovering and feels very grateful that he is doing well. Nieves hopes to test negative and be able to “receive the vaccine sooner rather than later,” as he and the rest of the staff are part of essential personnel.
Similarly, Rzemieniewski commented that “although there was a lot of coordination on my part as a manager, the frontline supervisors and workers took on the stress of actually cleaning the spaces on a daily basis.” Along with the concerns, however, he recognized that there was certainly a growing amount of gratitude expressed by many campus community members throughout the year.
Given the hazardous circumstances, it would have been expected for Facilities Services to experience a few resignations from members who might not have wanted to take the everyday risk of contracting COVID-19 while on the job. Despite this, Nieves said that “no one has resigned. We’ve had a couple of employees retire.” Martucci addressed the retirements as results of the pandemic.
Even during this tense period, they have managed to get through by “establishing good protocols in both our Business Continuity Plan and Pandemic Recovery Plan,” according to Martucci. There was a considerable amount of planning ahead that was necessary to “develop effective procedures and procure the necessary supplies, materials and equipment.” He acknowledged that the teams had initially encountered supply shortages that caused extra concern, adding on to the “fear of an unknown future.” Preparing their equipment well in advance alleviated those worries.
Nieves said, “We successfully made it through the Fall 2020 semester.” While this pandemic has pushed the limits of many, these teams pushed back in order to make NJIT’s community the safest and healthiest it could be.
“Overall, I am proud of the hard work that my staff has put in throughout the year,” Rzemieniewski remarked. “Regardless of what was going on around us, the majority of the staff has come to work when we need them and followed the game plan. It is because of them that we are successful.”
“I believe the campus community understands, respects and appreciates the services we have provided during these trying times,” Martucci stated. “Our dedicated employees understand the seriousness of this situation and have all sacrificed and contributed to the success of this past year, which resulted in minimal health and safety concerns on campus. As we look forward to the Spring semester, Facilities Services is prepared again to address any concerns. This pandemic is something none of us has ever experienced and we are hopeful it will pass soon. The lasting impact will likely be felt for years to come!”
Graphic by Nicolas Arango