UVA Sign Shop Produces Professional Protection to Stem Spread of COVID-19

Warren “Hubba” Wood stands with a plexiglass barrier that has been fully put together

Warren “Hubba” Wood of Facilities Management with a clear plastic shield designed for the protection of students, staff and faculty. (Photos by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

For the near future, we will be transacting almost all of our business through clear plastic barriers. On Grounds, they have been cut in the University of Virginia’s sign shop.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, people on Grounds need to keep separate, and part of that is erecting clear plastic shields to protect employees and students from spreading the virus. The University’s sign shop has been cutting plastic sheets since March for deployment around Grounds to use as safety shields.

“We started making plastic shields for the health system, and then we moved on to the University Police Department buildings,” said Warren “Hubba” Wood, senior supervisor for special trades, capital construction and renovation for Facilities Management.  “Within the last month and a half, we have been installing plastic shields on the academic side for registration desks.”

There are a variety of applications for these barriers.

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“Shields are needed anywhere that you are going to have frequent transactions requiring close proximity,” said Scott Clough, associate director of design services for Facilities Management. “We’re imagining computer labs, research labs, open office spaces and service desks.”

Working with quarter-inch thick plastic sheets, Wood said sign shop employees have been making upright shields that stand on their own on surfaces.

“The way we are building them, we cut plastic feet that the sheet sits in, so they are not damaging countertops or tables,” he said. “We don’t want to do anything that is going to cost more in the future.”

Taylor Cottingham of the Facilities Management Sign Shop watches as a machine cuts out a plexiglass barrier

Taylor Cottingham of the Facilities Management Sign Shop prepares to cut a sheet of clear plastic to make a shield.

Some of the work has been simple and some more complex. Wood said the departments present him with problems and he and his people solve them. He said the shop was currently working on two special projects.

“One is at 500 Ray C. Hunt [Drive, in the Fontaine Reserch Park] where we are putting clear plastic barriers around treadmills for stress tests,” Wood said. “That has been a unique challenge. And we are working with University Police Department coming up with something so they can have a barrier for their fingerprinting operation.”

“The team in the sign shop at Facilities Management has once again shown its ingenuity and creativity in fabricating plastic glass barriers to help keep the members of our UVA community safe,” Colette Sheehy, senior vice president of operations, said.  

Clough said Facilities Management is taking a more complete approach to shielding.

“Initially the requests were coming in one at a time as people recognized needs in specific areas,” Clough said. “In more recent weeks, there has been an effort to approach each building as a whole and Facilities Management is playing a role addressing the needs on several areas, such as signage, hand sanitizing stations and barriers all lumped into one. We are trying to help people assess their building needs on a consistent basis.”

Wood said the sign shop has recently worked on shields for study areas in the Law School’s library.

“Designing a social-distance seating plan with enough study space for our students has been one of the bigger challenges,” Amy Wharton, director of the Arthur J. Morris Law Library, said. “Most of our study tables normally seat four students, but under the distancing guidelines they can seat only one. By fitting our largest tables with clear plastic, two mask-wearing students can safely sit diagonally from each other and still be six feet apart from students at other tables nearby. We had cutouts added to keep the tables’ built-in electrical outlets accessible.”

Wharton said the library scanning system has been reconfigured so most check-outs can be done with the staff never touching the materials. A special book slot will allow books to pass through if necessary.

“The sign shop also installed larger custom shields at the circulation desk so that staff can safely work at closer range with students who have questions or need to check out library materials,” Wharton said. “I had a lesser concern that the shields would detract from the aesthetics of the library, but they’re barely noticeable.

“Our paramount concern at the Law Library is providing a safe and healthy learning and working environment for our students and staff when we reopen this fall,” she said.

Person putting together a plexiglass barrier

The clear plastic shields are fitted with stands to hold them up on table and counter tops.

Wood said the University has gone through around 150 4-foot-by-8-foot sheets of clear plastic in the last three months, averaging about $229 a sheet. 

“We try to take that 4-by-8 sheet and get the most that we can out of it,” Wood said. “We have had some orders come in and we will measure it out to reduce scrap as much as possible. Clear plastic sheets are a high-demand item for everybody right now. Three weeks ago, all of our local venders were out.”

Wood said UVA Procurement Office was recently able to secure another 200 sheets.

“It is kind of slowing down,” Wood said. “We placed an order recently for 100 more sheets. It is in stock now, so I think production has gone back up.”

Not all the clear plastic sheets have come from outside vendors. When the University Bookstore needed shields for its counters, Shawn Ragland, the HVAC supervisor in the Newcomb Hall area, came up with his own idea for supplying them, cutting shields from clear plastic sheeting being removed from the Alderman Library during its renovation.

“The plastic sheets were installed in Alderman Library in 1983 to cover the drafty windows,” Ragland said. “We had roughly 200 sheets. The size ranged from 4-by-4 feet to 4-by-8 feet. We are not sure of how many more we need.”

Alderman’s plastic sheets are an eighth of an inch thick and are being used for barriers between staff and customers at the bookstore, as well as well as in other nearby buildings.

“The sheets are thinner, which makes supporting them difficult, but we were able to come up with solutions per each installation,” Ragland said.

Wood said the barriers are being designed so that once they are no longer needed, they can be put into storage.

“I hope a lot of people will hang on to these, especially the ones at reception desks and libraries,” he said. “They can wrap them up and store them. Most of these will fit in a closet. When I meet with customers, I explain that to them.”

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Office of University Communications