CSI Facilities Management Adjusts to a Different World

This is the sixth in a series of articles in CSI Today that will examine the professional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the College’s Front Line Workers, and their determined efforts to ensure the safety of our campus. [OFFICE NAME] is under the supervision of Hope Berte, Vice President for Campus Planning, Facilities, and Operations. VP Berte commented that “There are many staff in the division who should be recognized for their outstanding commitment and dedication during these unprecedented circumstances. All have worked under the direct guidance of each of the managers who are spotlighted in this series.”

Prior to COVID-19, you’d see the staff who work for Keith Pisons, Chief Administrative Superintendent, all over campus—custodians who keep the campus clean; laborers and grounds staff who keep it functioning and looking presentable by mowing, trimming, removing refuse and recycling, and even setting up for events; plumbers who oversee installation and repairs of all plumbing and piping systems throughout the College, including fire sprinklers, drainage and irrigation systems, and CSI’s forced sewage pumping station; and Central Plant staff who control the College’s heating, ventilation, and AC system, fire safety systems, and various mechanical systems that support research, emergency power systems, and fuel storage. All of this amounts to a monumental task on a good day.

As with other offices on campus that are critical to the smooth running of the campus, the Facilities Management had to make a lot of changes during the pandemic, not only to keep the campus operating, but to ensure the safety of those who were physically there. To get better grasp of the changes involved, CSI Today spoke with Joseph Nasella (Administrative Superintendent for Custodial Services), Frank Salzillo (Senior Stationary Engineer in Facilities at the College in charge of the Central Plant/HVAC), John Mahoney (Administrative Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds in charge of Laborers and Fleet Mechanics), and John Santorelli (Plumbing Supervisor).

So, how has the pandemic affected the Facilities Management? Nasella noted that his staff had the additional duties of disinfecting all surfaces throughout campus, including Dolphin Cove, which was once being eyed as a possible medical facility. He added, “As in-person classes resumed, it is necessary to constantly clean and disinfect all occupied spaces. Close attention had to be paid to all high-touch areas.”

Mahoney commented that “All of the interaction that the laborers had with staff and students abruptly ended with the start of the pandemic. We now dedicate our time to maintaining the grounds and many tasks are scaled-back. Several in-person classes were held on campus and the Laborers thinned out classrooms and seating was spaced according to CUNY guidance.”

Central Plant staff continued to work to ensure a safe and comfortable campus. Salzillo reported that “I am proud to say that my staff were here every minute of every day throughout the pandemic including nights, weekends, holidays etc., as we always have been. What did change is how we are alerted to problems on the campus. It quickly became obvious how much we rely on campus occupants to alert us to minor problems before they become large problems. Thankfully, we had Public Safety, Vivarium staff, and Operational Services staff onsite through the campus’s most desolate days to help us in so many ways.”

Santorelli recalled that although the administration did their best to keep his staff adequately supplied, pandemic-induced shortages of materials for repairs and alterations often made things challenging. He added that “During these times, circumstances and guidelines seem to change on a daily basis. So keeping up with the changes has been challenging and keeps our work load always growing.”

Now that the campus is slowly reopening to more students faculty and staff, these dedicated staff members are continuing to clean and disinfect, install hands-free faucets and ensure the availability of hot water for proper hand-washing, prepare the grounds, and ensure that the HVAC systems are up to recommended safety standards.

With all of these people working on the front lines during a difficult and dangerous time, the common denominator was a sense of pride and teamwork.

Nasella commented that “The pandemic has been very challenging, especially in the early stages of the unknown. Together the custodians and I have taken this situation very seriously. We are proud of mitigating the spread of the virus.”

“We all are proud to be part of the campus community and hope all students return safely to campus,” Mahoney stated.

For his part, Salzillo noted that “I am incredibly proud to lead the group that is so tirelessly and skillfully working to keep the campus safe in so many critical ways and I am glad to have such a great group of tradesmen, laborers, and custodians to work alongside us in ensuring that the campus is and remains safe. This group is up to the task at hand and I would not want to have any other role in this.”

”Santorelli added, “These are times that we’ve never seen before. There was no dress rehearsal. It feels good to do what we can as a “TEAM.”

By Terry Mares

The Office of Information Technology Rises to the Challenge to Keep the College Community Learning and Working

This is the fifth in a series of articles in CSI Today that will examine the professional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the College’s Front Line Workers, and their determined efforts to ensure the safety of our campus.

The Office of Information Technology Services (OIT) has long played a critical role in so many operations that keep the College of Staten Island running. Some are very apparent, like when someone has a computer issue, or needs application support or training regarding email or some other technology. Others are behind the scenes, like computer, network, and connectivity upgrades. Without their vital services, the College would quickly grind to a halt.

Enter the pandemic and remote work and learning arrangements. For OIT, the landscape changed, but, as Patricia Kahn, Assistant Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Information Technology Services at the College of Staten Island, explained, many things had to essentially remain the same. Regarding the services that OIT provides, she said, “These functions never went away. What did change, however, was the way we delivered these functions. OIT never missed a beat on how we serviced our community and we met the challenge by providing these services remotely. Whether it was through virtual office hours; remote desktop management; account set up; virtual training; providing reports, inventory control, and imaging; converting our labs for students and faculty to virtually access software remotely via a secure environment, among others, the College community was able to thrive.”

As the College community prepares for a more in-person presence on campus for the Fall 2021 semester, OIT is an important part of that plan. AVP Kahn underscored the Number 1 priority of continuing to provide essential technical services to students, faculty, and staff, while remaining cognizant of health and safety guidelines. As a result, in-person computer labs will be open with proper social distancing protocols. Those students who continue to learn remotely will still have access to virtual labs. Another ongoing service will be the provision of devices to students so that they can participate in online and hybrid classes. “In that regard,” AVP Kahn said, “we are offering spaces on campus for students to use as study rooms, in addition to leveraging outdoor wireless options. All of this information will be available on our online resources Webpage.”

AVP Kahn noted that there are new innovations for students, this fall—Hyflex learning and enhanced Hybrid Smart Classrooms. “OIT has configured approximately 70 Smart classrooms with technology that will support students participating remotely at the same time the class meets face-to-face,” she explained. In addition, CSI faculty participated in the CUNY Hyflex pilot located in 1L-220A.

As she looks back on a harrowing 16 months, AVP Kahn stated that she has found that time to be “exhilarating, exhausting, and overwhelming! We are excited to provide the support and definitely have a sense of accomplishment when things work well and the College community takes advantage of the services we are offering. For example, we were able to provide remote access to lab computers for students who needed access to software from a remote location. This initiative required all of OIT staff to work together as a team and pull it off with limited resources. We were able to accomplish this without a hitch – and we received lots of kudos from students and faculty who leveraged these resources. However, it was not an easy lift. The same is true for many other initiatives that you may not realize because of the many behind-the-scenes projects that are underway to keep things operational.”

AVP Kahn was also able to find a bright spot during this challenging period. “OIT went above and beyond–often times providing support 24/7, and my team never complained. While I always realized how hard OIT staff worked, it definitely became even more apparent during these trying times.”

By Terry Mares

Campus Planning Prepares for Campus Reopening

This is the fourth in a series of articles in CSI Today that will examine the professional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the College’s Front Line Workers, and their determined efforts to ensure the safety of our campus. The Office of Campus Planning is under the supervision of Hope Berte, Vice President for Campus Planning, Facilities, and Operations. VP Berte commented that “There are many staff in the division who should be recognized for their outstanding commitment and dedication during these unprecedented circumstances. All have worked under the direct guidance of each of the managers who are spotlighted in this series.”

In the days before the pandemic, Campus Planning oversaw all aspects of large-scale capital projects on campus from the planning stages through completion. Jorma Loci, Project Manager with the Office of Campus Planning, added that the office was also responsible for “designing, managing, and supervising in-house projects for renovation of existing facilities throughout the campus while maintaining compliance with relevant laws, regulations, and CUNY standards.”

In addition, Loci, who is a registered architect, works with the Commencement Committee to coordinate activities for that special day when students receive their degrees, secures Certificates of Operation with the Department of Buildings, and collaborates with the VP of Campus Planning, Facilities, and Operations to formulate the College’s five-year capital plan requests.

The landscape for Loci and Campus Planning obviously changed with the onset of the pandemic, and the eventual preparations to have a Fall 2021 semester with more students, faculty, and staff on campus, with a sharper eye toward safety. “Along with the other members of the Campus Re-entry Committee charged with the Campus Preparedness/Safety,” Loci explained, “we have worked with proposing short- and long-term recommendations for a staged re-opening since the start of the pandemic. Throughout this time, we have worked as a team to review, prepare, and implement a campus re-entry plan in line with the continuously changing CDC, State, and CUNY guidelines to allow for a safe campus environment.”

Some of the specifics of that process for Campus Planning included creating campus-wide signage and social distancing occupancy plans, while tending to ongoing construction projects that were considered essential during the pandemic. Loci added that “We have been doing numerous walk-throughs in the past few months with departments in reviewing their space needs as we near the Fall semester and continue to offer assistance with the implementation of the social distancing guidelines in the different areas of our large campus. As a team, we are here to offer all the help and clarity needed in assessing all the different areas on campus and to be able to ease staff, faculty, and students back.”

Campus Planning created the signs that encourage COVID safety.

Through it all, Loci was able to find a bright spot—a sense of solidarity that was fostered among her entire team and other offices as they prepared the campus for re-entry. She also said that being a part of the planning process for the Grad Walks that took place on the Willowbrook Campus in June was an emotional experience.

Looking back on her time on the front lines during COVID-19, Loci stated the most important aspect for her was “a heightened sense of duty to our co-workers, students, and the entire College community that I myself, and our entire team, do all we can to bring all the cheer back to campus. We have been busy preparing mostly unoccupied building throughout this time, and we can’t wait to see our hallways, Library, cafeteria, and gyms full of students, advancing their studies, and making the College of Staten Island proud.”  

By Terry Mares

Operational Services Continues to Deliver during the Pandemic

This is the third in a series of articles in CSI Today that will examine the professional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the College’s Front Line Workers, and their determined efforts to ensure the safety of our campus. Operational Services is under the supervision of Hope Berte, Vice President for Campus Planning, Facilities, and Operations. VP Berte commented that “There are many staff in the division who should be recognized for their outstanding commitment and dedication during these unprecedented circumstances. All have worked under the direct guidance of each of the managers who are spotlighted in this series.”

If you’ve ever received or sent mail at CSI, accepted a shipment, had something printed, or borrowed a College car to use on official business, you have benefited from the good works of Operational Services (OS).

As with all College offices and departments, the COVID-19 pandemic had its effects on OS, but as its Director Andrew Diaz, reports, many functions continued regardless, such as receiving incoming deliveries. That task now entails coordinating the timing to ensure that someone is onsite.

Andrew Diaz

One of the office’s new tasks has proven to be extremely critical to the continuation of teaching and learning during the remote environment that was necessitated by the pandemic—device distribution and returns. Diaz traced the steps and OS’s involvement in the process. “Students faculty, and staff fill out a form and submit it. [CSI Curriculum Coordinator] Veronica DiMeglio sends me a spreadsheet, I import it into mine, and I assign a device with a CSI Inventory code, box, and label, and ship out the devices. When the device needs to be returned, the person notifies Veronica and she sends me the info, and I create a return label, scan it in, and send to her. She then sends it to the student. When the device arrives, I go back into the spreadsheet and mark it as returned. I then return it to IT to be added to their inventory.”

Diaz added that in some cases, he had to meet people outside of the front gate if they didn’t have access to the campus to accept and distribute devices and mail.

Throughout the pandemic, Diaz noted that his staff has continued to follow College/CUNY safety guidelines like wearing masks, washing their hands, social distancing, and regularly sanitizing equipment.

When asked if there were any bright sides for him and his staff, Diaz said, “Unfortunately not. We are getting a hands-free inbound package tracking system to maximize efficiency, but other than that it was business as usual for us. Our responsibilities are pretty simple, but they are required for CSI to function. We hope that the College community understands a little better what we do and what it takes to service them properly.”

That being said, Diaz also expressed his feelings about being on the front lines. “I have always been a company man… I had no issues stepping up and doing what needed to be done to move the College along during this unique situation. To minimize exposure to my staff, I often undertook a lot of safety-related precautions myself to keep others out of harm’s way. I felt safe because I followed all the protocols and was diligent in my daily routine.”

By Terry Mares

The CSI Office of Environmental Health and Safety Continues to Protect the Campus Community through the Pandemic

This is the second in a series of articles in CSI Today that will examine the professional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the College’s Front Line Workers, and their determined efforts to ensure the safety of our campus. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety is under the supervision of Hope Berte, Vice President for Campus Planning, Facilities, and Operations. VP Berte commented that “There are many staff in the division who should be recognized for their outstanding commitment and dedication during these unprecedented circumstances. All have worked under the direct guidance of each of the managers who are spotlighted in this series.”

Although a good portion of what it does is behind the scenes, the CSI Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) is constantly on the job, ensuring compliance with protocols to keep members of the campus community from harm’s way. ​

When asked about the specifics of what his office does, Abner Felix, the Director of EHS at CSI, recited an extensive list, including enforcing city, state, and federal health and safety regulations, and filing the necessary reports to those agencies to document compliance; inspecting academic and research labs on campus; managing campus-wide hazardous, medical, and radioactive waste programs; ensuring that CSI’s EHS plans and programs are in line with those of the University; responding to EHS complaints and emergencies; formulating and implementing campus safety training programs; and even maintaining campus fire extinguishers.

Abner Felix

With the advent of COVID-19, and the eventual return of some students and faculty to the campus to conduct ongoing research, Felix noted that all of EHS’s responsibilities continued, including the training of essential personnel in “hazard communication, cleaning and disinfection protocol, bloodborne pathogens, proper handling of all other cleaning solutions, what type of PPE to wear, and training on how to don and doff masks, etc.” However, there was obviously now a new danger to health and safety that further heightened those responsibilities.

COVID-19 necessitated that EHS staff take on additional responsibilities, especially as COVID regulations kept changing. They were involved in COVID compliance planning, served as internal auditors and inspectors to ensure all necessary COVID-19 safety signage was placed in the proper areas, and provided recommendations on social distancing strategies and guidance to ensure that social distancing barriers were up to code prior to installation. EHS also offered technical assistance in setting up fit-testing protocol for staff, faculty, and students who were working in healthcare settings, off campus. They also guided CUNY EHSRM officials on visits and tours of spaces that had been re-opened.

With plans to further expand the number of people on campus on the horizon for the Fall 2021 semester, EHS continues to ensure compliance with CUNY’s and CSI’s re-opening guidelines. It is also collaborating with other offices on campus to move toward that goal.

Looking back at his experiences during the pandemic, as well as those of his staff, Felix proudly remembered, “My office staff’s constant deliberation and brainstorming for all COVID-related topics and strategies created a cohesive, unified, and effective team in tackling day-to-day challenges in this pandemic.”

He also reported that he continues to encourage his staff members to be resilient and attend to their own families’ needs, as well. “The toll of this pandemic, due to physical and emotional isolation, was so impactful that I remind them of the importance of strengthening their bonds and connections with their own families and close friends.”

By Terry Mares

The Office of Public Safety Stays Vigilant and Goes Above and Beyond

This is the first in a series of articles in CSI Today that will examine the professional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the College’s Front Line Workers, and their determined efforts to ensure the safety of our campus. The CSI Office of Public Safety is under the supervision of Hope Berte, Vice President for Campus Planning, Facilities, and Operations. VP Berte commented that “There are many staff in the division who should be recognized for their outstanding commitment and dedication during these unprecedented circumstances. All have worked under the direct guidance of each of the managers who are spotlighted in this series.”

The CSI Office of Public Safety has been on duty prior to and during the pandemic, ensuring an environment on campus that is safe and conducive to learning, teaching, and working. Once COVID-19 necessitated limited access to the Willowbrook campus, things changed drastically and evolved constantly, according to Public Safety Director Michael Lederhandler. “When the College shut down, our role became one of access control. For a period of time at the beginning, no one was allowed on campus except Public Safety and the building engineers who needed to keep the power plant running…Then over time, more and more people started to return. First, custodians and laborers. Then researchers, professors, and students. But still we had not gone back to being the open campus that we were. We were under constraints as to how many people could enter campus each day.”

Michael Lederhandler

Public Safety eventually teamed up with the Office of Information and Technology to devise an access system that provided officers at the Front Gate with the names of people who were approved to be on campus. They also maintained a health-screening station in Building 1R for people who didn’t have access to Everbridge, the approved phone app for that purpose.

Computers also came to play a role in the duties of Public Safety, as officers distributed devices to students so that they could participate in remote learning, and as Lederhandler explains, “one of our main duties became turning on and re-booting people’s computers so that they could continue to work remotely. This became a task that we continue to do multiple times per day.”

Another part of the evolving role for Public Safety is the impending re-opening of the campus. Lederhandler notes that “Working with other offices on campus (Buildings and Grounds, Environmental Health and Safety, etc.) we are surveying the campus in terms of lighting and other things such as structural and environmental conditions that may need to be rectified prior to fully re-populating the campus. Additionally, we are actively in the process of upgrading our CCTV systems and emergency call boxes around the campus.” Officers are also taking a five-day Police Mountain Biking Course to add a more personal dimension to patrolling campus than riding in vehicles, as well as a course from the NYS Department of Criminal Justice Services on de-escalation of incidents.   

CSI Today asked Lederhandler if there were any bright spots that emerged during the pandemic. “It was important to me that we did not use the pandemic as an excuse to get lazy,” Lederhandler replied. “Many of the skills that we use in our job are diminishable skills that if not used tend to wane. So, we used a lot of this time to train on things that we may not always have the time to when we are busy and at full population.”

 Summing up how it felt to be on the front lines during the pandemic, Lederhandler said, ”This is what we do. On the day after 9/11 and for the next few weeks, I went with a cadre of CUNY Officers to help in the rescue and recovery efforts. During Superstorm Sandy, I was all over the City setting up shelters at a number of our colleges in the University. These are things that people in our field do without thinking about it. During this pandemic, I was actually grateful that I had a place that I needed to be every day rather than sitting and working from home.” 

By Terry Mares

‘I come right at you’: The vigilantelike figure who’s running to be the GOP mayor of New York [quotes CSI Political Science Professor Richard Flanagan]

Politico.com – As many New Yorkers fear the city could slip into the bad old days of subway crimes and gang shootings, one of the more memorable characters from the city’s rough and tumble past has emerged to carry the Republican banner into the general election for mayor. Read more at Politico.com.

By Erin Durkin