Since the start of the pandemic, organizations, schools, businesses and individuals have had to drastically pivot operations to protect against COVID-19. The amount of work involved in keeping us all safe is incredible, which is why we want to highlight an individual in our Upper Valley community who is doing just that. We want to thank Pete Gile, Facilities Manager at the Upper Valley Waldorf School for speaking with us about his experience since COVID-19 entered all of our lives.
Q: Hi Pete! Thanks for speaking with us. Can you tell me what your role is at the Upper Valley Waldorf School?
A: “My title is “Facilities Manager”. I’m in charge of all facilities related projects and maintenance. I help teachers get their rooms set up and fix things around campus. I organize cleaning, plowing, landscaping, and other contractors. I’m also on the Health and Safety team.”
Q: Once the pandemic started, how did you have to shift or adjust the work you do to keep everyone safe?
A: “In the spring, my role shifted focus to more disinfection of door knobs, bathrooms, and water fountains throughout the day. Once schools closed, after a brief lock down lull, I realized I needed to be at school quite a bit to make sure the buildings systems were functioning. I read an article about legionnaires disease and stagnant water, so early on I started running all the taps once a week. I walked through every room at school and checked every window and door twice a week. I didn’t see another employee in person for weeks on end. Everything was remarkably quiet. No airplanes, no traffic, no lawn mower or leaf blowers.
Over the summer once it became clear that the virus was airborne, I had all of our HVAC systems evaluated. I started to get quotes on adding ventilation to areas of the school with no ventilation, or outdated ventilation.
Once the state prioritized grants from the federal government through Efficiency Vermont to upgrade school’s ventilation equipment, we moved forward with a project and just over Christmas break our new ventilation system is up and running. It allows us to recover up to 70% of the heat that would have left the building with just an exhaust fan.”
The administrative and re-opening teams evaluated and implemented the State of Vermont reopening guidelines. Part of my job with the Health and Safety Team is to help school personnel, parents, and students adhere to the state guidance. Before school started the guidelines meant measuring all the classrooms for 6ft spacing, building hand sanitizer stations, researching disinfection systems, and building outdoor classroom spaces for each class. For the classrooms we used a combination of posts, trees, and buildings to put up sail cloth tarps. Putting up a single outdoor classroom would have been a fun summer project, but we had to figure out about ten locations in one month. I researched just about every disinfection technique and disinfection chemical in existence. After months on backorder, we ended up with an electrostatic sprayer with a hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant.
Now that students are back in the building, I’m now the disinfection guy.”
Q: What does being the “disinfection guy” entail?
A: “The students use the restrooms in cohorts and I disinfect between them, pretty much all day long. In between bathroom disinfection, I also disinfect doorknobs, keypads, microwaves, desks, tables, and any other high touch surface. If my disinfection schedule gets thrown off by 5 minutes, then classes are literally waiting for me to disinfect before they can move on to more important things. The amount of work that our teachers put in to making the school schedule is incredible. They have every time block, bathroom break, classroom, and area of the playground mapped out so there is no overlap between cohorts.
Another thing that has changed is the focus of safety concerns. We used to be most concerned about fires and intruders into the building, and those things are still important to prepare for, but we are much more likely to see a COVID case than seeing any other unusual danger, so our planning has taken this into account. For me personally, bathroom disinfection is the place that places me at most risk for COVID. There are studies from hospitals that show a high viral load in the bathrooms of COVID patients.”
Q: Do you plan to get the vaccine once it is available to you?
“I look forward to getting the vaccine when it is my turn. Anyone who goes into a building with lots of other people right now are at greater risk for COVID. At school there are tons of rules and regulations to mitigate those concerns, but there is always a concern.”
As a reminder, as we begin to see more vaccines rolled out, we hope you will continue to be vigilant so we can get to the other side of this pandemic. There are so many people who have gone above and beyond to keep us safe, do let’s do it for them and our community! To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, watch this short informational video.