Building Safety

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College has made the safety of our campus community its top priority.

For Facilities Management, an essential part of this holistic effort is ensuring that we have safely ventilated building environments for teaching and working. While public health officials emphasize the importance of such basic preventative measures as vaccination and mask wearing, they also recognize that properly configured heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems are a significant part of an institution's overall COVID safety program.

We have prepared an update in the form of a building-by-building summary of work performed as part of this important maintenance effort:

View the Fall 2021 Building Inspection Report: Teaching & Work Spaces

Message to the Community

July 13, 2021

The purpose of this message is to explain the steps we have taken since March 2020 and our continuing action plan to make sure that our HVAC systems are functioning at the appropriate level to maintain student, faculty, staff and visitor safety while indoors. 

Our Approach

To ensure that Occidental meets the guidelines issued by the CDC and the Epidemic Task Force of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) as well as the California Mechanical Code, our in-house experts—Chris Reyes, interim director of facilities management, Louie Avalos, lead HVAC technician and Sara Semal of Emmons Wellness Center—have worked closely with independent consulting HVAC engineers and Dr. Kim Shriner '80, infectious disease specialist from Huntington Hospital, over the past year. 

We also benefited from the input of the HVAC Task Force, which included representatives from Facilities Management, Emmons Wellness Center, Residential Education and Housing Services, our outside engineering experts, and faculty. 

Teaching and Work Spaces

Under ordinary circumstances, HVAC systems in campus buildings are maintained on a three-year cycle in accordance with ASHRAE standards. In preparation for a full reopening this fall, the College has compressed that three-year cycle into a single year to ensure that every building is evaluated. Facilities Management staff, outside contractors, and engineers have been, and continue to, conduct room-by-room inspections, verifying ventilation system operations (based on maximum occupancy), and where necessary making repairs and upgrading systems to ensure proper operation, air circulation, and air exchange rates in all of our learning and work spaces. The CDC has recommended upgrading the HVAC filters to the highest rating current systems can handle. Engineers have reviewed each building's HVAC system, and the highest-rated air filters have been installed in keeping with ASHRAE standards. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we expect all buildings will be fully inspected and ready for full capacity by August 1. Rooms in campus buildings that do not reach ASHRAE standards will be removed from use if appropriate modifications cannot be made.

We are preparing a further update to be made available on the Facilities webpage later this month, with a building-by-building summary of work performed as part of this important maintenance effort. We will also review this information and address any community questions at the regularly scheduled COVID community meeting on Friday, July 23 at 11 a.m. While all spaces will be ready by August 1 for full capacity use, Facilities already has taken into account the health and safety requirements for our reduced populations in spring and summer and can assure the community that our HVAC systems serving those classrooms and labs are sufficiently adequate.  

Included in the inspection and upgrade program are: Johnson Hall; Fowler Hall; Swan and Hinchliffe Halls; Academic Commons; Weingart; Booth; Keck; Thorne; Anderson; Bioscience; Norris Chemistry and Mosher; Hameetman Science Center; Psychology Lab; Mullin Art Studio; UEP; UEPI; Treehouse; AGC; Culley; Athletics Offices; Facilities Services; Campus Safety; Johnson Student Center; Samuelson Pavilion; Emmons Wellness Center; Herrick; ICC; Upward Bound; Alumni Gym; Rush Gym; Samuelson Alumni Center; Spencer Field House; Kinesiology classrooms, Res Life and Dean's Office in Berkus Hall; Child Development Center; and Collins House.

Across Campus

Cleaning Services staff will continue its current cleaning protocol with EPA-recommended cleaning products and e-mist machines. E-mist machines can disinfect rooms in minutes. All restrooms are cleaned multiple times per day, as are high-touch surfaces such as door handles. Hand sanitizers have been deployed at building entrances, as well as in classrooms.

Our goal is to provide an environment this fall where faculty, students and staff can feel confident that their health and safety is being protected. If you have any questions about this process, please don't hesitate to send an email to oxy@oxy.edu and our Facilities staff will make sure your questions are answered.

Amos Himmelstein, VP and Chief Operating Officer