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A photo of masked students in a ballet class at Richland Academy of the Arts

Resilient Ohio: Cutting-Edge Safety Measures Keep Richland Academy Thriving

Richland Academy of the Arts in Mansfield has introduced two new cutting-edge safety protocols since reopening its doors for Spring Semester 2021: the use of a hospital-grade-disinfectant sprayer and an HVAC system with a needlepoint bipolar ionization unit. (Photo courtesy of Richland Academy) Picture the titular characters of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 “Ghostbusters” movie roaming around with their special “Proton Packs” strapped to their backs. In the film, the team of supernatural exterminators used these portable particle accelerators to capture ghosts and keep the people of New York City safe from paranormal pests.

Now, picture a similar scene unfolding in the halls of Mansfield’s Richland Academy of the Arts. The faculty and cleaning crew aren’t capturing ghosts, of course, but they are using a similar-looking gadget to keep people safe from a different invisible threat: the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

A new disinfectant sprayer, filled with the same liquid cleaning solution used in hospitals, was purchased by Richland Academy as one of two new cutting-edge safety protocols the organization has introduced since officially reopening its doors in June 2020. The sprayer makes it possible to clean soft surfaces, which are difficult to clean to COVID-19-santizing standards.

Richland Academy of the Arts’ new disinfectant sprayer makes it possible to clean soft surfaces, which are difficult to clean to COVID-19 sanitizing standards. (Photo courtesy of Richland Academy)Another coronavirus-compliant safety measure installed at Richland Academy is a high-tech HVAC system equipped with a new needlepoint bipolar ionization unit to more thoroughly clean indoor air.

 “The new ionization unit works by destroying different pollens or pathogens that can be harmful to humans,” such as mold and other viruses, said Alli Lange, Richland Academy’s marketing and social media coordinator. “This new system (is) proven to kill 99.4 percent of the (COVID-19) virus within 30 minutes.”

The decision to install this state-of-the-art HVAC system came to staff members at a board meeting when the reality of COVID-19 hit and solutions were needed to ensure a safe environment for students and teachers.

“We were very blessed when one of our board members here who owns the company that services our HVAC system brought the actual unit itself to a meeting,” said Richland Academy Executive Director Marianne Cooper “We knew that if we wanted to continue teaching classes, that this was absolutely the direction we needed to go.”

For Spring Semester 2021, Richland Academy’s student population is about 60 percent first-time students. (Photo courtesy of Richland Academy)Richland Academy is a nonprofit arts center that receives operating support funding from the Ohio Arts Council. Like many educational institutions across the country, the academy has been greatly impacted by the realities of COVID-19 and had to close its doors for three weeks in February due to a few staff members testing positive for the virus. Upon reopening, the new HVAC installation and disinfectant sprayer, combined with other practices such as social distancing within classrooms and mask-wearing, made it possible to continue offering classes in dance, music, theatre, and martial arts to members of the community in a healthy and safe manner.

 “We have had students who have reached out to us expressing how important it was to them that we are open and running so that they had that avenue to really express themselves even during this time,” Lange said. “It’s no secret that COVID-19 has impacted people’s mental health in a negative way, so on top of us wanting to provide arts in education opportunities to our community, we want to make sure that we are taking care of our community’s mental health.”

As institutions everywhere continue to adapt to this new reality, the adoption of health technologies such as the bipolar ionization HVAC unit has already made a large impact in several facilities. Similar units have been installed at the White House, the Mayo Clinic, and Harvard Law School.

Richland Academy has combined the new health technologies with other safety protocols, such as social distancing and mask-wearing during classes. (Photo courtesy of Richland Academy)Cooper said it’s all about adjusting and responding to information and best practices as they become available.

“(COVID-19) has driven us all to look in a different direction, some other way to keep people as safe as we can,” Cooper said.

And it seems to be working. These new safety protocols have given many students and members of the Mansfield community peace of mind that they are still able to pursue the activities they love—just with some new health and safety aspects added to the experience.

“What we are finding, which is so amazing, is that we are getting new students,” Cooper said. “We have a student population of about 60 percent first- time students, which speaks to the fact that people are really searching for safe activities for their children.”

Richland Academy received a portion of the $20 million in CARES Act funds made available to the OAC through the initiative of Gov. DeWine and state legislative leaders and through the approval of the state’s Controlling Board (Photo courtesy of Richland Academy)And it’s not only school-aged children reaping the benefits of Richland Academy’s activities. Programs are also provided for adults ages 60 years and older. Even though COVID-19 is considerably more of a risk for seniors, older individuals have been enthusiastically taking part in Richland Academy’s senior program.

“What we found when we were able to reopen, (seniors) came back in droves,” Cooper said. “They were so eager to become involved in life outside of the home. It was quite interesting to see that happen.”

Looking to the future, Lange said she is confident that investment in health and safety technologies is truly a step toward Richland Academy’s long-term resilience.

“The safety of our faculty and students is our top priority and has been from the beginning,” she said. “We really consider these new projects to be a great step forward in providing a clean and safe environment for our community.”

For more information about programs offered at Richland Academy, visit richlandacademy.com.

Resilient Ohio is an ongoing series highlighting the innovative solutions developed by Ohio arts organizations as they navigate the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has created incredible financial obstacles for the arts across the country. According to Americans for the Arts, the negative economic impact of the coronavirus on the arts and cultural sector totals $14.8 billion across the nation—and counting. If you have a story to share about creative perseverance within Ohio’s arts community, please email it to communications@oac.ohio.gov.
 

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Cassie Rea, 2021 Ohio Arts Council Arts Administration Fellow
Featured photo courtesy of Richland Academy of the Arts



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