Essential Workers Keep MBU Going During the Pandemic

When members of the housekeeping staff Jackie Payne, Barbara Brooks, and Denise Davis were asked to help cover shifts at MBU’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences, they didn’t hesitate. Not even when they learned the start time — 3 a.m.

“All three of them never wavered when they were asked to help there, even though it was totally new territory,” said Cindy Smith, housekeeping supervisor, who spoke with Payne, Brooks, and Davis at a recent team meeting. “They were thankful they were healthy enough and still had a job to perform and could help the people who were not able to be at work. They did an amazing job.”

Going above and beyond to help others is a hallmark of the MBU family in good times and bad. Nowhere is that spirit more apparent than among those essential personnel who are still working on site during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Matthew Crum, mail services coordinator, delivers mail to the Virginia Institute for Leadership offices (left); Barbara Brooks, housekeeper, cleans and disinfects rooms in Woodson Residence Hall (right).

Members of the physical plant and facilities management teams faithfully put in the long hours and complete the many projects needed to keep campus beautiful, clean, and safe.

“Every day, I’m proud to work alongside the quiet professionals of MBU’s facilities management team,” said Brig. Gen. Terry Djuric, commandant for the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, who has also been leading the facilities team in recent months. “Flexibility and teamwork have been their approach throughout MBU’s response to this difficult pandemic. We look forward to the day our #MBUfamily is back on campus.”

This spring is very different from the norm, which usually features many of Mary Baldwin’s biggest events. 

“In the six years that I have been a part of the MBU family, I have never seen campus so empty,” said Dustin Smith, grounds supervisor. “My team and I continue to work hard every day to make the grounds a beautiful place to be, but now we only see the occasional Staunton residents. With no Commencement, alumni events, Staunton Military Academy reunion, or prospective student visit days, there are not many times that we can showcase our care of campus, and that is disappointing.” 

(clockwise from left) Dustin Smith, grounds supervisor, repairs MBU’s mower; Todd Collier, lead painter and maintenance technician, paints hallways in Woodson Residence Hall; Jackie Payne and Donna Crowe, housekeepers, clean and disinfect rooms in Spencer Residence Hall.

In addition to caring for campus, the team is taking the opportunity of tackling new projects while residence halls and other campus buildings are empty. While it’s a good time to get those things done, the work has to be carefully managed and adhere to health experts’ recommendations, including the use of social distancing. 

“The biggest challenge that the pandemic has caused for us is how we work,” said Nick Hall, who helps oversee the environmental health and safety of MBU employees and facilities. “Instead of working in teams, we now work for the most part alone, unless it is a job that requires two people for safety, such as lifting, working from heights, or in a tunnel. Then team members have been instructed to wear a mask and gloves and other protective equipment.”

Nick Hall, manager, environmental health and safety, provides oversight of critical maintenance on the steam heat tunnels under Page Terrace.

Like so many others across the world who have changed their behavior and adopted precautions against the coronavirus, the MBU facilities and grounds team is dedicated to completing their work, while keeping each other safe. Unlike many office workers, however, their projects often lack opportunities for digital connection and online sharing. It’s hard on them to be apart.    

“We are a close-knit team and having these measures in place makes us more distant from each other than usual,” Dustin Smith said. 

Within the challenges, however, there are silver linings. The pandemic has opened up unique opportunities to give back to the larger community outside of Mary Baldwin.

“I think the project that means the most to all of us is the preparation of the Tullidge dormitory for the Valley Mission in order to give those who are less fortunate a safe and comfortable place to stay while the virus is in our area,” said Dustin Smith. “I think it is a great thing that MBU is doing to include them in our MBU family.”

Stockroom Coordinator Valerie Purcell ordering and managing supplies to get campus through the storm. Matthew Crum ensuring that the mail is delivered. Sylvia Fielding keeping track of all of the work requests. Maintenance and engineering staff maintaining the many campus buildings. Each and every one of the facilities and grounds team members are carrying out essential work on campus and making sure everything will be ready for the return of students, faculty, staff, and alumni when it’s safe again, said Hall. 

“I think what keeps us going at this time is knowing we are working hard to keep everyone safe, whether it’s us here at Mary Baldwin, medical providers, or grocery chain workers,” said Cindy Smith. “We are all on the same team and doing this together.”

(clockwise from top left) Jeff Bennett, senior groundskeeper, and Frankie Fitzgerald, vehicle mechanic and groundskeeper, mow portions of Lower Athletic Field; Valerie Purcell, stockroom coordinator, at her desk.

Some recent projects to keep MBU safe, clean, and beautiful

  • Disinfecting high-touch surfaces in residence halls, offices, computer labs, the Physical Activities Center, University Cafe, bathrooms, and more locations across campus
  • Sharing MBU’s inventory of antibacterial hand soap and hand sanitizer with local healthcare first-responders while continuing to protect the MBU community on both campuses 
  • Delivering glasses, gloves, and gowns to Augusta Health (joint effort between Facilities Management and Pearce Science Center faculty)
  • Preparing Tullidge Hall for Valley Mission clients (a joint team effort between Student Engagement and every aspect of the Facilities Management team)  
  • Remaining flexible responding to daily guidance in March as students departed, classes transitioned online, and campus-wide arrangements for working from home resulted in locking all buildings on campus  
  • Assisting MBU students with move-outs so that they could collect their belongings left in the dorms in a timely and safe manner 
  • Through deep cleaning and fixing maintenance issues, eight empty rooms in King Residence Hall were prepared for the few remaining undergraduate students who are not able to return home (a joint team effort between Student Engagement, the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership staff, and Facilities Management)
  • Responding to critical maintenance issues and taking the initiative to work evening shifts to address outdoor lighting issues across campus — by the engineering team 
  • Working with students to forward their mail; working with faculty to expedite getting students with limited internet their assignments; and helping Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences mail clinical rotation kits with protective gowns and gloves to their students — all by MBU Mail Services Coordinator Matthew Crum in addition to his regular duties delivering the mail
  • Preparing Hunt Dining Hall for improvements and managing contractors
  • Keeping up with springtime weeding, mowing, planting, trimming, pruning, and routine post-storm clean-up across 54 acres of main campus and the branch campus of Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences