Trustees

From left, OU officials during a media availability at Walter Hall in January 2019: Deborah Shaffer, vice president for finance and administration and treasurer for the Board of Trustees; President Duane Nellis; OU Trustee Chair David Scholl; and former Provost and Executive Vice President Chaden Djalali.

Ohio University tentatively estimates to spend millions of dollars on COVID-19-related expenses for the upcoming fall semester across both the Athens and regional campuses, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration Deb Shaffer announced at Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

Though none of the COVID-19-related information Shaffer and other university officials shared at the meeting is final, it offered a glimpse into how the university is thinking about students returning to campus and what fall semester at OU might look like.

The university is anticipating to spend more than $3 million on preventative measures such as disposable face masks for visitors; reusable masks for students and staff; face shields; plexiglass to promote social distancing; hands-free water fountains; and cleaning supplies, among others, Shaffer said.

OU, however, applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that could offset much of the cost of the personal protective equipment accounted for in a drafted expense chart Shaffer presented at the meeting. The university expects to receive that grant, she said.

They university may also be able to recover up to $10 million in potential COVID-related expenditures through insurance, Shaffer said.

Shaffer’s chart outlines a draft of the potential financial implications for OU for the rest of 2020 should classes resume in the fall.

All of the expenses listed, which were formulated with the help of recommendations made by the Inter-University Council of Ohio, could be doubled if the university is required to undergo the same COVID-19 precautions for the spring semester, Shaffer said.

“As we finalize assumptions on campus reopening, we will adjust these to align with whatever the final decisions are for the institution,” Shaffer said.

Testing symptomatic individuals for COVID-19 could cost the university more than $300,000, according to the drafted chart Shaffer provided. But if the university opts to test all returning and incoming students, it could cost up to $3 million, Shafer said. Contact tracing could also cost more than $200,000.

Shaffer hinted at how the university is thinking about operating both residence and dining halls, though none of what she said necessarily reflects the university’s official reopening plan, which has yet to be announced.

The university is tentatively expecting to allocate more than $10 million to residence and dining hall facilities and their upkeep to meet public health considerations, Shaffer said.

Vice President of Student Affairs Jason Pina and his team have been working to understand how to safely house students in residence halls, she said. They’ve considered the potential costs of housing fewer students in individual dorm rooms and spacing them out into more facilities.

When factoring costs, Pina also considered how students who potentially become quarantined would be able to get take-out food from the dining hall, Shaffer said.

Julie Cromer, OU’s director of athletics, also indicated in the meeting that the university is tentatively planning to hold sporting events and host live audiences in the fall.

“It’s unfortunate that we don’t sell out every game of every season. However, the fact that we don’t gives us a little bit more flexibility than some other places in creating new alternatives in spreading out crowd out a little bit,” Cromer said.

Some student athletes are slowly returning to town to participate in voluntary workouts beginning next week, but they will all be tested before entering athletic facilities, Cromer said. The athletics department is also identifying locations for athletes to isolate themselves should they test positive.

No student athletes were required to come back to Athens for pre-season training. But those who did return to town were required to agree that they would not leave, Cromer said.

Cromer is also working to develop contingency plans for teams should OU decide to halt sporting events.

Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting was the first of two planned for this week. The board will meet again Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. and is expected to further discuss potential plans for reopening the university.

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