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White paper: Returning to campus during the COVID-19 pandemic

How can higher education institutions apply and augment the published guidelines to meet their specific challenges

The higher education conversation about COVID-19 has become a complicated discussion about how best to achieve the trifecta of health safety, financial viability and student success.

Bringing students, faculty and staff back to campus is not textbook – it is collaborative problem solving. This analysis looks at how emerging guidelines can be applied to existing buildings and proposes the concept of cohorts to minimize the risk that is inherent in practical application.

White paper summary

COVID-19 required higher education institutions worldwide to rapidly shift from predominantly in-person education to entirely online education throughout the spring of 2020. As colleges and universities consider bringing students, faculty and staff back to campus, there is a need to rethink facility use patterns and implement physical, operational and behavioral changes to maximize student and faculty safety.

To contribute to this discourse, we convened a group of planners, architects and engineers specializing in higher education to study the facility impacts of physical distancing and envision solutions.

We started by analyzing the available guidelines provided by government health and academic entities to higher-education institutions on reopening in fall 2020. We then applied design thinking to three key areas. First, we studied infection dynamics on the campus overall and applied the idea of “cohorts” as a mechanism for limiting exposure. Next, we conducted a detailed study of two campus building types where students congregate: a general purpose academic building and a “traditional” residence hall with shared toilet and shower facilities. These analyses identified “pinch points” suggesting the need for behavioral and physical modifications to more closely comply with the intent of the guidelines.

View or download the full whitepaper.

Contact the authors

Elissa Kellett, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is LEO A DALY’s global higher education practice leader. She has devoted a 36-year career to helping colleges and universities envision and realize capital projects that further their mission and reflect the unique character of their institutions. Her expertise covers all phases of planning, visioning, design, construction and post-occupancy evaluation across the continuum of higher education, including community colleges, four-year institutions and graduate programs.

Anya Grant, AIA, associate, market sector leader - higher education

Anya Grant, AIA is LEO A DALY’s market sector leader for higher education in Washington, D.C. Throughout her career, she has engaged some of the country’s leading academic institutions to articulate the identities of their campuses through thoughtful programming, planning and design. Her areas of expertise include residence halls, professional schools and student centers.

Kimberly Cowman, PE, LEED AP, HFDP is LEO A DALY’s national director of engineering, Kim is responsible for establishing and leading a common engineering design platform for LEO A DALY and growing our engineering practice across existing and new engineering centers. Throughout her career, she has excelled at recruiting talent, demonstrated thought leadership through publishing and speaking engagements, fostered and developed client relationships for key opportunities and led integrated design teams on large, complex projects.