If you have spent any considerable time in the psych building, you have likely encountered Operations Manager James "Jim" Clark. He either helped you with a problem or smiled and said hello during one of his countless walkthroughs around the halls.
A Building Safety Committee was formed over the summer tasked with preparing the building for faculty, staff, and students returning for the fall semester. Jim was prominently featured as a key contributor.
We talked to him about his experience, knowledge of the building, and how things have changed during this unique semester.
How long have you been working for the psych department?
A little over 10 years.
In a PRE-COVID world, what were the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
Watching our grad students succeed in earning their Ph.D.'s. Typically the last couple of years, I get to know most of them a little. When you see them outside room 318, waiting anxiously, it is rewarding to know you have had a small role in helping them succeed. In my case, it is a very minor role, but it is rewarding to know that providing a comfortable place and supporting their requests have aided in them progressing in their careers.
Are there any cool aspects of the building areas that you have access to that others would not know about?
Probably the roof access. Occasionally I need to inspect or repair a wet lab fume hood fan that is located on the southside of the Atrium Penthouse. This requires me to walk across the Atrium webbing between the skylights. The view of Champaign / Urbana is beautiful, especially in the spring and fall. As I sometimes pause to take it all in, standing 80 plus feet over the Atrium floor and looking out, it can really make you appreciate this special place we live. By the way, I seldom pause in the winter winds to take in the view.
What were some of the new procedures and changes you were a part of as the Fall Semester began?
Covid 19 brought many changes to the facility. For several years, our BSW's have been in the building during the mornings to work directly with us on cleaning needs, floor finishing, etc., were transferred to a night shift and refocused to sanitizing touchpoints. Although a negative for us and them, the sanitization is very important to keep the facility open. Other challenges included the social distancing of all classrooms, public spaces, and meeting rooms. The relocation and storage of hundreds of chairs and new layouts with drawings for all the rooms was a challenge.
Can you describe the atmosphere of the building with so few people coming and going?
Until the fall semester started, we typically only had 4-6 staff and students in the building. It was always a surprise to see someone as I did a walkthrough looking for facility problems. With the fall semester, a few more have started to come in, and of course, a few students in 3 classrooms and the Atrium. It is nothing like before, with hundreds of students coming and going and staff moving around. The limited classes and attendees mean you only see people coming in the front door directly to the classroom and out. Gone are the days of masses waiting on a class to let out so they can enter a room. It is very quiet.
What are/were some of the difficulties throughout the transition?
Other than the social distancing mentioned before, there were no difficulties other than effective communications with other people. Remote working is prevalent everywhere, so communications have been a challenge even in today’s world of email. More important, it provides some positives and allowed an opportunity to do some projects around the building more efficiently. I was able to finish cleaning all the Atrium window ledges, coordinate all the hallway floor refinishing, and install power to the elevator landing study tables, to name a few.
Do you feel we should adopt any of these changes permanently after things return to “normal?”
No! I’m ready to have everyone back.
CURRENTLY, what is the most enjoyable part of your job?
My function is so broad and diverse; this is a difficult question. The building is 50 years old and at an age that it is a challenge to research a repair that is needed on the original blueprints. I like to solve puzzles and find reasonable solutions. An example is the Atrium planter. It was not included with the original building and was added 3 years after the building was completed. Getting the prints to research the construction was a challenge. The planter has developed a leak, and the original design and materials were a very important piece of analyzing the best approach for the repair.
Jim is quite humble and will tell you he just "doing his job." Without him, we would be a mess. A special thanks to Jim for taking time for some properly due focus.
We hope to see you soon, too.