With less than three weeks to go before the start of the fall semester, Baylor University has added large tents and ultraviolet lights to its arsenal aimed at stifling COVID-19.
To spread students out when classes resume Aug. 24, classroom occupancy limits will be reduced, and instructional hours have been expanded into the late evenings, spokesperson Jason Cook said. Most event and multipurpose rooms will be repurposed into classroom space that can allow for social distancing.
“For example, Waco Hall will now function as a large lecture hall, as will the event spaces on the Fifth floor of the Cashion Building,” Cook said.
To that end, the university is renting 16 large air-conditioned tents, joining the ranks of Rice University, the University of California at Davis and Amherst College in Massachusetts taking similar approaches, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. The tents, most serving as dining or study space rather than classrooms, will range in size from 30 feet by 40 feet up to 60 feet by 115 feet, and will be supplied by Peerless Events and Tents.
The company usually serves large-scale music festivals and multi-day events, the kind that are in short supply at present, Peerless Events and Tents CEO Will Wright said. The company started reaching out to universities in mid-summer when he realized they would all be facing the same problems in the fall, Wright said.
“I’d say Baylor has been one of our best partners so far in forward thinking,” Wright said. “We’ve worked together to come up with some very creative solutions.”
Round, 5-foot tables will seat four and will be topped with plexiglass partitions. The tables will be spread apart to accommodate social distancing, and will be separated by vinyl partitions. Wright said Baylor’s rental agreement is flexible and would allow the school to return tents early if the danger of COVID-19 passes or students have to be sent home.
Wright said the tables are meant to serve as overflow to help prevent crowding in dining and studying areas, not as designated class space.
According to Baylor, food will only be allowed in dining tents and Wi-Fi will only be available in non-dining tents.
Baylor plans to put up six tents that can seat 444 students in the Fountain Mall, one that can seat 204 near Penland Dining Hall, one that can seat 88 near Brooks Dining Hall, two that can seat 168 at Memorial Dining Hall and one that can seat 144 at East Village Dining Hall.
A tent outside McCrary Music Hall will serve as vocal and instrumental practice space. Baylor Law School will have two, one of which will serve as mock trial space. Two tents at Beauchamp Athletics Nutrition Center can accommodate a total of 72 student-athletes.
To improve air quality, the university will install UV-C air filtration systems in most residence halls. Others will received upgraded filters, and the systems will be flushed twice daily.
The university announced that face coverings would be mandatory last month, and recently started sending test kits home to all of its students, faculty and staff.
“A negative COVID-19 test is required for students, faculty and staff coming to campus for the start of the fall semester on Aug. 24,” Cook said. “There will be several educational and enforcement measures, which will be outlined in the days ahead.”
About 27.5% of Baylor’s courses will be offered online this fall. Overall enrollment is expected to be similar to lat year’s about 18,000 students, with 5,000 living in dorms. About 1,400 students have expressed interest in taking classes only online, Cook said.
“These numbers are flipped for many of our peers and institutions across the state, which are primarily offering online instruction,” Cook said.
Over the past week, Baylor President Linda Livingstone has made announcements outlining everything from cleaning protocols to how faculty should prepare to move online with little warning.
To prepare, each course will have a backup plan for continuing to teach sick and quarantined students, and lectures must be recorded if a room’s technology allows for it. Faculty also have to develop backup plans in case they get sick.
The university is also adding signs to dictate the flow of foot traffic and designate entrances and exits. Water fountains will be marked “do not use.”
More than 550 hand sanitizer dispensers will stand near building entrances, stairwells and outside large classrooms, and more than 550 sanitizing wipe dispensers and paper towel dispensers will replace automatic air dryers in bathrooms.
Cook said the university’s sororities and fraternities have not received specific guidelines but are expected to follow state and local orders banning large gatherings.