Dedicated Facilities Teams Preserve Scripps’ Signature Campus During COVID-19

By Lauren Mar ’25

While faculty and students navigated remote learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scripps College was not completely deserted. Its grounds, custodial, and maintenance teams all worked diligently to ensure Scripps’ beautiful campus was preserved and prepared for everyone’s return.

“COVID-19 increased everybody’s responsibilities tenfold,” says Lesley Swick, director of facilities operations and sustainability. “Not only was our dedicated staff in charge of maintaining the campus, but they also had to keep the students safe and healthy. Everybody had a moment where they sat back and went, ‘This is not in my job description, but I’m willing to do it because this is what we need to get through this and support all of our community.’”

Keeping campus alive through the pandemic

Buildings and residence halls themselves may have been closed, but as Swick states: “Everything keeps growing.” As such, Scripps’ grounds team continued grounds maintenance despite the absence of students and faculty, overseeing the meticulous care of Scripps’ botanical campus even with temporarily reduced staff. Because of the College’s unique and signature campus, in which its landscaping was developed hand-in-hand with its architecture, the grounds team’s role in preserving that historic relationship throughout the pandemic has helped keep the magic of Scripps alive.

The College’s custodial and maintenance teams undertook similar efforts throughout remote learning. To avoid the risk of “demolition through neglect” due to the infrastructure of Scripps’ historical buildings, the custodial team continued to keep things up and running in anticipation of an eventual return to campus.

“This campus is not meant to be empty—in both a literal and metaphorical sense,” Swick says. Without community members living on campus to notify staff of any issues, it was critical for the custodial and maintenance teams to address problems and ongoing needs. To follow COVID-19 protocols, custodial staff added many safety measures, including wearing Tyvek lab coats—even in sunny Claremont weather—when they entered any of the residence halls for maintenance. Through both changes in weather and constant shifts in state-mandated health procedures, both teams persevered, reflecting their commitment to the Scripps community.

Returning to campus with and its “new normal”

Swick says the facilities staff is “absolutely overjoyed” at the return of faculty and students to campus.

“Our staff has a strong sense of serving the institution and its values. How do you do that when there are no students?” says Swick. “And Scripps students are some of the loveliest, kindest people I think I’ve ever encountered. Our staff develops really genuine connections with them, so it’s been nice to reaffirm: ‘This is what we’re here for.’”

Swick says that the possibility of a future COVID-19 surge lingers in everyone’s minds. But there is also a sense of optimism, a product of appreciation for the huge efforts each staff member took upon themselves.

“We weathered this storm together, so it made us more resilient and stronger together,” says Swick. “I’m so proud of our teams.”