UT-Austin reduces seating capacities, rearranges furniture in buildings before campus reopening

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To make room for social distancing procedures during fall classes, more than half of the seats are blocked off with cable zip ties in the Mary E. Gearing Hall. The capacity of this classroom has changed from 172 to 68 seats to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Photo Credit: Jamie Hwang | Daily Texan Staff

UT has reduced seating capacities in buildings and reorganized classrooms to meet COVID-19 safety protocols in preparation for in-person classes during the fall semester.

Out of 11,586 total class sections, 1,818 classes are in person, according to the University’s website. In an Aug. 11 email to students, Interim President Jay Hartzell said the University projects 45% to 50% of undergraduate students will take all of their courses online. 

Hartzell said all students have to embrace the new measures for safety both on and off campus.

“This is a voluntary code of conduct and a statement of shared purpose — a series of actions that any one of us can, and should, take to protect our community during a public health crisis unlike any other in modern history.” Hartzell said in the email.

Mike Carmagnola, director of Project Management and Construction Services, said his teams have reworked facilities by installing sanitation stations, reducing seating capacities in classrooms to 40% and reorganizing furniture to maintain social distancing. He said students should also expect signs restricting elevator capacity and directing traffic flow on stairs and in hallways. 

“We're a big campus with a lot of buildings,” Carmagnola said. “We worked with building managers and the individual building units …  to try and encourage social distancing and discourage the crossing paths of folks to make it as safe as possible.”

Ann Stevens, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, said the college asked faculty to designate a spot outside the building for after-class questions. Stevens said professors will also hold extra office hours and dismiss students in sections to prevent crowds.

Stevens said the college allowed professors to decide whether or not they would teach their classes in person.

“We focused on faculty whose own health and judgment about the way their class is taught could allow it to be taught in person given the need for social distancing,” Stevens said.

Joaquín Moreno, a biology and sociology senior, said he hopes for smaller sections in his organic chemistry lab. He said he expects the class will follow social distancing guidelines, especially for teaching assistants who may lack experience in managing a group of students.

“I'm a little worried,” Moreno said. “I'm being positive and hoping that UT will have the necessary precautions for the students.” 

Undeclared freshman Jocelyne Covarrubias said she feels unsure about what to expect from her in-person class. She said she is concerned students will not take the new measures seriously.

“I feel like it's a big worry that so many people are just not going to care as much … and forget the fact that there's a pandemic going on,” Covarrubias said.

Carmagnola said his team will be available to follow up and make adjustments once classes start.

“Obviously, no one person can do all this work,” Carmagnola said. “We're going to allocate a portion of our teams to stay on board and be available for follow-up work … just because we got to the first day of class, it doesn't mean we're going to forget about things.”

 
Editor's note: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the title of Mike Carmagnola, director of Project Management and Construction Services. The photo caption for this story has also been corrected to reflect that the capacity of the classroom in Mary E. Gearing Hall is 68, not 86. The Texan regrets these errors.