10 tactical modifications for healthier public facilities
The goal of state and local government agencies is simple: to make a positive impact on people’s lives. Prioritizing the safety and security of the community requires reliable facilities and infrastructure. But according to the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure published by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE), the systems and framework for the United States are mediocre to poor, scoring a C- overall. Deferred maintenance and antiquated building systems and surfaces not only diminish the value of public assets but can also increase operations costs and, most importantly, pose potential safety and health concerns for the community.
Recently, Congress provided aid through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This, along with previous Federal funding mechanisms, will help state and local governments, education, transit providers, airports and other entities respond to the COVID-19 crisis through facility and infrastructure updates and mitigate the economic hardship of the pandemic to help stimulate the economy. Among many other things, the American Rescue Plan provides: $350 billion for state and local governments, $170 billion for educational institutions, $50 billion for emergency grants through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), $30 billion for transit agencies and $8 billion for airports. Such robust funding will help meet urgent facilities needs across the country, but now the entities that on the receiving end of American Rescue Plan funds face a new challenge: how to best deploy the financial relief.
Strategic facilities and infrastructure plans must be carefully grounded in a new regulatory reality and framed with the communities’ needs first. Planning maintenance and renovations for shared public facilities is important as simply occupying office spaces, schools, community parks and recreation, courtrooms, correctional facilities and police stations, libraries and the myriad of other rooms and arenas we share introduces potentially critical health risks. Now that threats to health and public safety extend to viral pathogens, tactical modifications and measures must be taken to reduce these risks.
Here are 10 tactical facilities modifications and improvements to assure the public that safety and security are priorities for state and local entities:
- Upgrade/modify HVAC, ductwork and filtration systems: Filtration in building heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are part of an overall risk mitigation approach to help remove particles and pathogens from the air. The ASCE data indicates that 53 percent of public school districts report the need to update or replace multiple building systems, including HVAC systems.
- Install no-touch technologies: Limiting human contact within facilities helps minimize the number of disinfection services needed and reduces the spread of viruses, like the flu and COVID-19. Installing handwashing stations, contactless restroom equipment, garbage and recycling systems, light switches/occupancy sensors, crosswalks, hand sanitizers, doors, card readers, etc. are all great upgrades to help keep facilities and building occupants safe.
- Improve or re-configure facilities throughput: Places like the DMV and the library that serve the community throughout the day will need to embrace new technologies and floorplans. Potential facilities bottlenecks can be addressed through automated kiosks, additional or improved signage and automated or additional doorways.
- Re-configure spaces to support social distancing guidelines: Social distancing guidelines are likely to impact each shared space within municipal facilities. Thoughtful plans and clear signage will need to be considered to encourage people to maintain a safe distance while using the facilities.
- Remove soft flooring and wall finishes and install sheet or epoxy flooring: Updating or replacing existing flooring and wall finishes for more durable, resistant surfaces will promote easier disinfection processes and reduce the risk of contamination while providing a longer lifecycle through normal wear and tear.
- Install anti-microbial/bacterial coatings and surfaces: Viral pathogens can survive on some surfaces for hours. Special coatings and resilient surfaces can be used to prevent cells from adhering to surfaces, combatting the growth of bacterial cells.
- Make elevator modifications: First and foremost, any elevators that are out of order should be repaired or replaced. There are many technology advancements available to reduce pathogens—these include ventilation units, ultraviolet (UV) disinfection systems (in use in many hospitals), touch-free technologies and even systems that can monitor and stagger usage.
- Install plexiglass partitions and physical barriers: Limiting germ contact and maintaining social distancing is the best way to prevent the spread of viruses. Some agencies have used partitions or barriers in reception areas, between co-workers, within high-traffic areas, etc.
- Increase safety and security measures: In this post-pandemic world, having a “safe and secure” facility has taken on a broader meaning. To be aware of both violent and viral threats, metal detectors may be joined by infrared scanners at building entrances to take temperatures, helping to prevent the spread of pathogens. Some airports have already adopted this technology.
- Update outdated technology and add electrical and data outlets: Technology has allowed us to come together while staying apart in the age of COVID-19. More data and device usage in schools, businesses and government activities will allow for virtual or remote processes, learning and meeting to continue as needed.
Facility maintenance professionals in municipal government continue to adapt and improve to operate in a post-COVID-19 environment safely. Making updates and upgrades to public buildings includes creating healthier and better overall shared community environments to live, learn, work and play in today’s uncertain times. Many of these essential changes provide benefits beyond public health concerns—including increased sustainability and lower costs as a result of reduced energy consumption, minimizing cleaning effort and supplies, providing a longer lifecycle, and further reducing the spread of diseases and airborne pathogens.
State and local governments can continue to serve community needs and preserve health by embracing new approaches to everyday operations, adopting modern technology and working with trusted partners. The mission to provide greater safety and quality of life for residents can be achieved efficiently with the right tools. To quickly complete repairs, renovations and minor alteration projects, agencies across the United States are using job order contracting (JOC), an project delivery method that empowers them to complete a large number of projects with a single, competitively-awarded contract. JOC is also included as a service offered by many cooperative contracts, which have numerous advantages essential for today’s government leaders. By establishing local, competitively awarded contracts through cooperative purchasing networks, agencies can allow work to immediately begin on facility and infrastructure repairs, renovations, alterations and modernizations. These resources and alternative methods foster faster delivery and greater cost control for agencies across the nation.
Dan Cook serves as Gordian’s vice president and general manager of the state and local government and K-12 education (SLED) industries. Cook has more than 20 years of experience in developing solutions catered to building and maintaining safe and reliable community spaces with data, software and expertise.