Marketplace indoor dining, Academic Commons and other facilities partially reopen on campus


LA County’s move from the purple to red tier of California’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” March 12 has led to announcements Feb. 18 and March 5 from the Occidental COVID Operations Group (COG), allowing for a partial reopening of the Kemp Stadium March 8, Del Mandel Aquatic Center March 16 and the Academic Commons March 22. The changes in health guidelines have also allowed for an in-person, student-only commencement for the class of 2021 May 16 and the class of 2020 in June, according to announcements sent by President Harry Elam March 19. Additionally, according to a message from the COG March 31, indoor dining at Marketplace’s Gresham Dining Room opened April 1 at 25 percent capacity and a modified campus visit program began March 29 for admitted students living in California.

According to the Occidental athletics website, athletic facilities are currently open to current students, faculty and staff who complete the daily health checks. The Academic Commons is open to current students living on or off campus who are enrolled in the twice-weekly testing and daily health checks, according to an announcement from College Librarian Kevin Mulroy. The De Mandel Aquatic Center and Jack Kemp Stadium, along with the McKinnon Family Tennis Center, which opened last October, each have their own protocol according to the Occidental athletics website.

According to Vice President of Communications and Institutional Initiatives and co-lead of COG Marty Sharkey at the COG’s community update meeting March 26, they anticipate reopening the Alumni Gym Fitness Center at 10 percent capacity April 12 and possibly academic buildings. Sharkey said the COG’s main objectives are to maintain a safe and healthy campus and to provide students, faculty and staff with a campus experience when possible. The group has been working alongside different facilities and departments in order to guide a safe partial reopening, according to Sharkey.

“We’re not trying to make a blanket decision and tell the department or group exactly how things need to work,” Sharkey said. “There’s so many operational requirements so you want to move quickly. But you’ve got to do things the right way, make sure things are done with an eye towards health and safety, address all the staffing and operational issues.”

The Academic Commons staff and the COG created a system for partially reopening the library, which includes 56 socially distanced study spaces, according to Mulroy. Mulroy said along with wearing a mask at all times and socially distancing, Cleaning Services sanitizes the spaces three times a day. He said students can choose between a table seat or a soft chair in one of the five reading rooms of the old wing of the library between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sundays through Fridays. According to Mulroy, the first week open was a successful beginning and he is glad that students are using and enjoying being back in the library. Within the first week, 66 students made reservations in 116 total bookings, Mulroy said.

“I think people began to see that it would be a safe environment that we were creating, people began to be less anxious. And then honestly anybody who’s worked these shifts already and seen the students, how happy they ought to be back in the library, and we remember that this is what we’re here to do,” Mulroy said.

One of those students to first use the library was Lily Steck (sophomore), who said she reserved a study space by signing up on the reservation page, checking in with the Entrance Monitor and scanning a QR code on the desk or chair when entering and leaving. Steck said she missed having the library atmosphere for studying and enjoyed being back.

“It can be kind of difficult to focus at home,” Steck said. “Just being in an environment that is pretty much dedicated to studying and doing work was really helpful, and I think I’ll definitely be going back.”

The patio outside the Academic Commons at Occidental College. Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Zachary Galen/The Occidental.

Mulroy said the Academic Commons will continue to be open until May 6, though the library staff are working on a plan for students taking summer classes or conducting summer research who may want to use the library, possibly along with students from other programs such as the Multicultural Summer Institute (MSI).

The athletics department has also implemented a protocol based on the COG and LA County health guidelines, according to the athletic facilities website. According to Noah Nagel (junior), who has used the De Mandel Aquatics Center’s lap swim, the process for using the pool involves putting one’s name on a board and swimming in one of 12 lanes. Nagel said he enjoyed the accessibility of it and has no complaints.

“I like how easy it was. You kind of just walk up and put your name on the board, pretty informally and that was really helpful,” Nagel said.

COG has also considered art and music studios for partial reopening, according to Sharkey. According to music department chair David Kasunic, single-use practice rooms have been designated for four senior music majors who have performance concentrations that require preparing recitals for their senior comprehensive projects. Kasunic said they are unable to offer other options for practice, due to lack of space and proper ventilation.

“Each student has been assigned one practice room for the duration of this semester, and the student must be the only person in that room at the time and no one else can use that room, as ventilation and cleaning protocols do not permit more extended access,” Kasunic said.

Similarly, individual studio art space was offered to two senior studio art majors, according to art department chair Amy Lyford. One of those students, Ellery Thompson (senior), said she has been using the space to work on a large canvas project which she said would not have been possible at home.

According to Sharkey, although the partial reopenings have posed operational challenges, as campus facilities have been closed for a long time, they point toward a changing tide and begin the path to a full reopening.

“I hope there’ll be some positive and a sign that we’re moving back, that the COVID situation is getting better and we’re moving closer to a future reopening,” Sharkey said.