Snow on top of COVID: how ‘Berg pulled off Spring 2021 move-in

Plant Operations Department and COVID Operations Team work overtime to get students back on campus

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Photo by Ayden Levine '23.

While many students fretted about a potentially belated move in, the Plant Operations Department and the COVID Operations Team at Muhlenberg were working long hours to deal with the massive snow storm that occurred just before students were scheduled to arrive. 

“It was a Herculean effort to get all of the driveways and roads clear enough to be able to use them,” said Dean of Students Allison Gulati about the Plant Operations Department. Assistant Director of Plant Operations Brett Fulton noted that since the city does not have a good track record with clearing the roads, the school curated strong relationships with outside contractors. 

 Clearing the roads of snow is always difficult, but the shifted traffic pattern due to the move-in made the experience even more arduous. In February alone, Allentown had 40 inches of snow, the majority of which occured in the days leading up to students returning for the spring semester. The Plant Operations Department put in close to 200 hours of overtime prepping the campus. 

They also went through 118 tons of salt to melt the ice during the 2 to 3 week period. Several groundskeepers even had to stay overnight in empty dorms because the unsafe driving conditions made it impossible for them to get back home, according to Director of Plant Operations Jim Bolton.

Not only did the snow impact Muhlenberg’s roads, it also had a vast effect on the school’s pre-arrival COVID testing system. The company responsible for the testing experienced delays due to slow mail service during the storm. Gulati, head of the COVID  Operations Team, joked, “Even if the College could get our streets clean, that doesn’t mean that UPS could deliver appropriately.” 

Along with this hindrance, Gulati’s team had to address other issues like physically adapting and transforming spaces to make them more COVID-safe. Despite the many responsibilities tackled by Gulati, her most vital one was to help students learn and adapt to college-life during these difficult times. 

Her main goal was to help “students learn to really be part of supporting the health and safety efforts on campus and not get so frustrated about the things they can’t do but be able to focus on the things they can do in order to make that a good experience for them.” 

The prospect of facilitating a move-in during a pandemic, along with a forecast of heavy snowfall, would seem daunting to most. However, Bolton said, “The fact that we’ve been through this for almost a year helped. And the school has done a great job with the testing and getting all the information out, so I wasn’t as apprehensive as I was in the Fall.” 

The crew exhibited incredible commitment to their professions. Housekeeping manager Joseph Spirko mentioned that his team had to switch “from a cleaning mode to an infection control mode,” cleaning and disinfecting in between every two-hour move in slot. 

Yet, despite challenges faced by the department, when asked if they would undergo this process again Bolton, Spirko and Fulton all responded with a firm “yes.”

Meeting and exceeding the expectations of an influx of college students and their families as they move in is always going to be difficult. All of that responsibility paired with a pandemic and what Gulati acknowledged as “the biggest storm in Allentown… in over 100 years” makes the stakes and circumstances even more intimidating. But the Plant Operations Department and Gulati’s COVID Operations Team handled the event diligently and swiftly. All students living on campus were situated in their accommodations with relative ease, and the amount of COVID-19 cases at the College has remained at a low level. 

Additional reporting done by Ryan Dratler.

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