Even with Winter Break, Behind-the-Scenes Work at Otterbein Doesn’t End

Posted Dec 18, 2020

Otterbein University’s semester ended for students on Dec. 4 with virtual finals week, and soon campus offices — including Admission and Financial Aid — will close for a well-deserved winter break from Dec. 19-Jan. 3.

However, while campus tours and financial aid appointments won’t be available, the work behind-the-scenes to keep campus running smoothly never stops.

Here a few areas that continue to operate over break and how they support the Cardinal Community.

Facilities Services

It’s no surprise that the Facilities Services to-do list gets some much-needed attention while campus is quieter. Troy Bonte, executive director of facilities management, says it’s a balancing act between routine and preventative maintenance.

“It’s said that every $1 spent on preventative work equals $4 of future breakdown repair costs,” Bonte said. “The fact that campus is less occupied in December and early January gives us the chance to work more efficiently and quickly without having to interrupt faculty and staff work or students’ academics.”

Bonte says the first thing his staff focuses on is in-depth housekeeping responsibilities like carpet cleaning and detail work, like tile grout scrubbing, in restrooms and laboratories. Academic spaces and offices may receive a facelift with new paint, furniture, and other work orders that were filed during the semester. The grounds crew continues to do leaf pickup, gutter cleaning and snow removal on sidewalks and parking lots as needed.

In addition to the routine work, special projects are also on the docket. This year, the telephone systems will be assessed to make sure they are working correctly and to connect them to a new app for employees to tie their cell phones to their office phones. A new card reader will be installed in the psychology labs to better secure and track lab usage and a power transformer will be worked on in Towers Hall.

Thanks to the pandemic, there are some unique projects Facilities crews have to undertake this winter break.

“Besides a significant and thorough deep clean of all shared spaces on campus, we also have to really focus our efforts on Dunlap-King Residence Hall, as it will be the isolation area for those testing positive for COVID-19 and quarantine for those who are exposed,” Bonte said. “We’ll be making sure rooms are spaced out, get the deep cleaning they need, and double-checking amenities and access points.

“Bottom line: everything we do is to make sure everyone’s return to campus in the spring is as trouble-free as possible,” he said.

Residence Life

Office of Residence Life

The handful of students remaining on campus over winter break are mostly comprised of winter sports athletes, those who work locally, and who make Otterbein their permanent home due to distance or other personal reasons. Resident assistants (RA) continue to live in the buildings alongside the other students, but their responsibilities change slightly.

“Typically at this time during winter break, and this year is the same, we only have a handful of students because the athletes return at the end of December. That means the RAs are mainly available for emergencies,” said Tracy Benner, director of residence life.

During break, Residence Life is updating all housing selection materials for next year. Since housing selection is traditionally done in-person, their staff is trying to re-think the entire process to be virtual.

They are also spending their break planning ahead. “We’re trying to plan for next summer this far in advance to begin any needed renovations to buildings because that impacts how we do selection for campus apartments,” Benner said.

Otterbein Police Department (OPD)

Otterbein Police Department

Otterbein Police Chief Larry Banaszak makes sure his department’s first responsibility is to those residents who remain on campus over break.

“Sometimes the students staying over break have issues regarding mental health, building access or, very rarely, a crime to report. Our primary focus externally is securing the buildings and our residents within, so patrols and routes largely remain the same” Banaszak said.

OPD also uses the break to update and increase officer training and collaborations. Two in-service training days are scheduled before classes resume to go over incident response scenarios and prepare for larger campus emergencies. One of the things OPD does routinely all year, and continues over the break, is provide back-up assistance for the Westerville Police Department on calls when requested, which happens frequently.

“There are usually not many incidents that happen on campus over winter break, knock on wood,” Banaszak said. “However, we are still very busy with training and administrative tasks.”

Otterbein Bookstore

Otterbein Bookstore

“There’s always something happening at the Otterbein Bookstore, even if it doesn’t look like it to the public,” said Store Manager Kathleen Darnell.

It’s a common misconception that the bookstore closes over longer campus breaks and that the employees get time off as well. They do close to the public for a couple of weeks along with other campus offices, but employees still come in and work.

“We’re always providing customer service Monday-Friday over the phone and more frequently online. We’re packing and shipping orders because the holidays always mean gift giving, and who wouldn’t love an Otterbein sweatshirt?” Darnell said.

Restocking shelves is always a priority. A lot of shipments of textbooks, apparel and other merchandise come in over break, so employees are busy organizing shelves and stocking clothing racks so customers can be outfitted in and out of the classroom.

Austin E. Knowlton Center for Equine Science

Equine Science student walks her horse

Horses stabled at the Austin E. Knowlton Center for Equine Science don’t get much of break either, as essential check-ups are performed to ensure their ongoing health.

“We assess each horse and do therapies on some such as laser, magnawave, vibe plate, and magnetic blankets. We’re even hoping to make this a short course for students in the future,” said Bruce Mandeville, associate professor of equine science. “There’s always great air movement in the barn as well which adds to the safety of everyone’s breathing.”

Even over a break, the barn and stables still need to be cleaned and “mucked out,” and horses need to be fed, given fresh water, and let out to run — all of which happen 365 days per year.

Wendy Hovey is the barn manager at the Knowlton Center, and she says working with horses over the break is a nice change of pace.

“It really feels like we have the horses to ourselves. The work doesn’t change but we just have more time to ourselves with them because we’re not working around class schedules or labs. We all feel less pressure to hurry and do the job. We can relax a bit and enjoy the time in the barn more,” Hovey said.

It’s not all work and no play for the Otterbein equine staff and students. Riders are still able to get their horses out for a winter ride with plenty of social distancing. There is even a local fox hunting group, Rocky Ford Headley Hunt, that has nine scheduled “hunting” events scheduled over the break that several faculty, staff, and students participate in. Participants use a fox’s scent to track the decoy. No real foxes are hunted or killed during the events.

The Point at Otterbein University

The Point

Right now, equipment and building maintenance is on the agenda for employees at The Point at Otterbein University.

“We’re mainly finishing up projects in time for Christmas,” said Curtis Smith, Maker Space and laboratory operations manager for The Point.

The Point is also home to 11 tenants — including companies like JPMorgan Chase, Fiserv, Polymer Ohio, and Nikola Labs — so the building remains in operation longer than others on campus. In addition to the companies, the Maker Space is still accessible to members looking to finish up prototypes, projects, and any last-minute holiday gifts.

“We also do lots of significant maintenance and cleaning of some of our machines in the Maker Space, wood, and metal shops. It’s an ideal time to ensure all our equipment will be up and running all winter and for spring semester without disrupting normal operations,” Smith said.

Dining Services

A small crew of five to six employees of Parkhurst Dining, Otterbein’s food service provider, are on campus, but they aren’t manning the grill. Instead, they’re cooking up plans for 2021.

“When you’re hunkered down in your office during the colder months and you’re not serving food to the entire campus, that’s when you can brainstorm new ideas and focus on doing the routine work well and right the first time,” said Jimmy Oldham, director of board operations.

Usually at this time of year, Parkhurst would still be catering events on campus but with most celebrations happening virtually, they have time to think about what people will be looking for in the spring. Currently, Head Chef James Akers is working on a new semester menu that will add variety to meal choices and work with seasonal local ingredients. A new cashier system will be implemented and the point-of-sale employees will receive training.

“We’re also exploring new signage for our dining areas,” Oldham said. “We want to convey messages about safety to our employees and to our customers efficiently and effectively. This is the perfect time for designing and posting new signs about food allergens, emergency procedures and event management.

“A lot of things are just easier to accomplish in the downtime.”

Institutional Advancement

Tis the season of giving, so that means phone and website donations keep coming in over the holidays. Executive Director of Advancement Services Tracy Rush recognizes the importance of being available to donors, even when campus is mostly unoccupied.

“We work to ensure that Otterbein does not miss an opportunity to receive a gift from every donor. We make ourselves available to donors to answer any questions that arise or to report back to them their giving histories for future considerations,” Rush said.

Phones are monitored and forwarded to appropriate staff members 24/7. The www.otterbein.edu/give website is always available to Otterbein donors, but sometimes a more personal approach, especially during the pandemic holiday season, is needed.

“It’s important we keep those connections going to ensure our campus and students are well taken care of every semester,” Rush said.