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And you thought Matthews Arena was just for sports

Debbie Lomax, who works at Northeastern Reprographics, fills a bucket with cleaning supplies that will be distributed to students when they arrive on the Boston campus. Matthews Arena. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Workers and volunteers scurried around Matthews Arena on the Boston campus  Friday to complete several large-scale projects tied directly to promoting safety for the return of students this week.

The massive basketball and hockey venue, which opened in 1910 and once hosted a rodeo starring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, is serving as a staging area where nearly 3,000 bags filled with cleaning supplies that will be handed out to incoming students. 

Inside the bags, freshmen will find a plastic tub containing hand sanitizer squirt bottles, wipes, towels, and other necessities to stave off the spread of the coronavirus. The black, reusable bags were lined up from one end of the ice-less floor of the hockey rink to the other.

University facilities employees will do a test run on Monday to get the logistics down and see how long it takes to deliver them. Distribution will then take about two days starting this week, according to Jon Julien, senior director of facilities services.

The welcome kits will include hand sanitizer squirt bottles, wipes, towels, and other necessities to stave off the spread of the coronavirus. Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In another section of Matthews, work crews assembled a makeshift mailroom in expectation of thousands of package deliveries in the coming weeks.

Housing services have spread out the student move-in period over 11 days instead of the usual four or five. Since parents aren’t allowed to help with moving, in order to reduce density, families are mailing boxes of clothes, books, personal keepsakes, knick-knacks and other items ahead of time, creating a need for more storage space.

The lobby inside Matthews Arena

The lobby inside Matthews Arena has been turned into a temporary mailroom. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The regular mailroom on campus typically processes anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 packages a day both coming in and going out, Julien said. But the temporary mailroom in Matthews can hold significantly more, and will be in place until the middle of October. A security fence measuring 120 feet long, 10 feet wide, and seven feet high surrounds it.

Outside, large trucks are on standby to handle an overflow of parcels for those crunch periods when package delivery companies all arrive at the same time. Unlike the cleaning supply kits, students will be required to pick up packages themselves.

“We are a beehive of activity right now,” deadpanned David Frazier, director of athletic facilities and event services.

Frazier recently secured 500 hard-to-find stanchions that will go into the university’s COVID-19 testing facility in the Cabot Physical Education Center. The stanchions are used in banks and movie theaters to direct people where to go, and are difficult to come by lately as businesses employ safe distancing measures.

Still, Frazier purchased hundreds of them from an undisclosed National Football League stadium.

“Right call at the right minute at the right time,” he laughed.

The Northeastern community is taking nothing for granted to promote a safe experience for students, faculty and staff. After months of preparation that involved standing up the testing center, re-wiring classrooms, installing sanitizer dispensers, and other safety protocols, the university is at the “finishing touches” stage, said Julien.

That includes painting, some last-minute furniture moving and returning students’ property that was left behind when the university closed in March.

“Everyone on campus has done an incredible job,” he said.

As for Matthews, crews will begin putting ice down and installing new plexiglass around the rink in anticipation of a hockey season. While fall sports were suspended, winter sports such as hockey, basketball, swimming, and indoor track and field are set to have their traditional winter schedules, and are slated to start their competitions toward the latter part of fall.

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