The journey through pandemic-riddled times requires strength of will, commitment to diligence and creative problem-solving at a level few have experienced.
At Selkirk College, the frontline workers in the Facilities Department have led the charge with tireless work that ensures an adapted and safe campus environment.
When classes at Selkirk College were adjourned in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the uncertainty of the moment cast an unprecedented shadow over society as a whole. For those on the frontlines charged with maintaining the physical operation of campuses across the region, there was no pause.
The custodial and maintenance team has spent months transforming campuses and cultivating cleanliness to ensure operations are possible in an adjusted educational landscape.
“Nothing could have fully prepared us for what has taken place in the last nine months,” says Selkirk College Campus Manager Tarunjit Jassar.
“I am extremely proud of our team and the commitment they have shown to make our campuses safe for students, staff and the community. The pandemic situation will remain precarious in the coming months, but we will continue to work hard and take on any challenges that may arise.”
To get post-secondary learning back on the rails, the college’s Education Division put together an adapted delivery model that required modified campuses.
As the college’s health and safety plan developed over the spring, the Facilities Department’s role was to acquire supplies, modify buildings and rework spaces that conform to expectations provided by the Provincial Health Officer and the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills & Training.
Hand sanitizing stations were constructed, plexiglass installed, directional arrows laid down and classrooms redesigned to enable the college to operate in-person where possible and online where required.
In early-May, the Provincial Government’s COVID-19 Go-Forward Strategy designated post-secondary an essential service. Later that month, shop spaces on Nelson’s Silver King Campus were the first to resume in-person training for programs in the School of Industry & Trades Training. Work then shifted to other campuses and facilities in preparation for when the majority of Selkirk College programs returned in September.
“The custodial and maintenance team have been amazing,” says Selkirk College President Angus Graeme.
“So much work was done over the summer to complete routine maintenance projects, while at the same time making so many changes that have allowed us to operate safely through COVID-19. We simply could not have done it without the custodial and maintenance staff doing such great work with such positive commitment.”
Missing the Din of Crowded Hallways
Donna Sterne has worked at Selkirk College for three decades. A custodian at the Castlegar Campus, she has witnessed the bustle of generations of learners following their educational pathways towards success. What has taken place in 2020 will easily go down as the most challenging she has worked.
“This year we haven’t had many students working here at night when I am doing the daily cleaning… which is sad,” she says. “Custodians have been here through the whole situation, at times it has felt like a ghost town.”
Sterne started at the college in 1991 after completing a workforce re-entry program for women at the Silver King Campus. Having moved to the West Kootenay from the Lower Mainland with her three young children, Selkirk College has provided Sterne the opportunity to raise a family in a region that has become home.
“It just happened that way, but I am sure glad it did,” she says.
“It’s been a really good place to work and I have enjoyed my time at Selkirk College, I never imagined it would have been this long.”
During the quiet months of the spring and early summer, custodial staff were redeployed to work outside with the grounds crew and helped provide a deep cleaning of student housing facilities on both the Castlegar Campus and Tenth Street Campus in Nelson. The flexibility allowed the college to manage the preparation required for creating safe campuses.
After helping adapt the Castlegar Campus to allow for limited in-person delivery of programs and services, Sterne has now taken on additional tasks of providing frequent attention to common touch points and heightened cleaning where necessary.
Though looking forward to the time when the buzz of more normal times return to campus, Sterne is proud of the work that has been undertaken over the last few months.
“It’s nice to know that everybody on our entire team is doing their job to keep everybody safe and that makes me feel more at ease too,” Sterne says.
“It’s a safe place to be. We have taken all kinds of precautions to make sure that both students and staff feel comfortable to be on campus when they have to be here.”
Delivering on the Road Ahead
The difficulty of navigating regional post-secondary through the pandemic has not waned and there will be more unexpected twists ahead. With leadership from the Health & Safety Department, a solid plan from the Education Division and diligent work being done by the Facilities Department, Selkirk College is confident that students will continue to gain the education, skills and training required to help contribute to communities in more normal days ahead.
“It’s natural when faced with challenge to take stock of what is required to be successful,” says Selkirk College Vice President of College Services Kerry Clarke.
“There are many reasons why Selkirk College has been able to pivot and continue to provide an accessible post-secondary option to learners.
What jumps out to me is our amazing employees on the frontlines. Without the Facility team’s dedication to their task and to the students we serve, none of this happens.”