When Bill Racki says “I’ve never seen anything like it,” people take notice.
As well they should. A Clark custodian for 49 years, Racki has worked here for more than a third of the University’s 133-year history. He helped clear the campus following the legendary Blizzard of ’78, witnessed student protests during the Vietnam War, and grieved with fellow Clarkies on 9/11.
But the impact of COVID-19 on the institution has been singular. Racki can’t recall another instance when Clark students were sent home en masse and the campus was largely locked down.
“The closest comparison I can make is the 1979 oil embargo, when oil prices quadrupled,” Racki recalls. “All the workers were sent home for a month while Clark figured out what it was going to do. But that occurred during winter break, so it didn’t have the kind of impact we’re seeing now.”
Racki and his fellow employees from Facilities Management are committed to keeping COVID-19 at bay. Garbed in gloves and protective gear, and armed with cleaning agents, they’ve been scrubbing and sanitizing surfaces in residence halls and common buildings in a hard-fought campaign to disinfect the campus.
Their efforts have unfolded in a compressed time schedule, says Dan Roderick, director of Facilities Management. In a normal year, much of the cleaning work being done now is typically accomplished after classes are completed, after which the team prepares for Commencement, then “flips the campus” for summer use and gets ready for fall. It’s a process requiring several weeks, but which is being completed in a matter of days.
In addition to sanitizing the campus, Facilities Management has readied Blackstone Hall to house the undergraduate students who remain on campus. The move to Blackstone begins today, March 27.
“This year we’ve had to do everything on a dime,” Roderick says of the work done by his team. “We’re sanitizing the campus but we’re also shrinking the campus as people transition to Blackstone.
“I’ve stopped being amazed at what our folks accomplish with our resources and staff numbers. Everyone has stepped up to go well beyond what we normally do.”
Roderick says campus teams from Student Life and Residential Life & Housing “knocked it out of the park” to organize the mass migration of students off campus in about a week’s time, and to accommodate those students still living on campus. Dining Services has been providing boxed meals three times a day at no charge, and will continue doing so through March 31.
Roderick sees things beginning to stabilize as Clark adjusts operations to meet the challenges of these unprecedented circumstances, but he remains vigilant. Like most people everywhere, Roderick and other Facilities managers are conducting meetings virtually whenever possible. When meeting in person needs to happen, Roderick and other managers encourage staff to practice social distancing — “10 feet apart, not six,” he notes — and “we thank them while also reminding them of the safety measures” they need to follow as they battle the virus.
“Safety is my mantra, every day and every shift,” he says. “It’s our top priority for everyone.”