New West Village testing center offers speed, convenience to students

A collaborative effort across TU brought the West Village Testing Center online in six weeks

By Kyle Hobstetter & Rebecca Kirkman on February 22, 2021

Chairs in waiting room
The waiting area at the new West Village Testing Center. (Photo: Alex Wright)

This spring Towson University expanded its COVID-19 sentinel testing program to require twice-weekly rapid tests for students routinely on campus. The increase in tests is based on guidance from the University System of Maryland, the latest coronavirus research and proven success of this method of testing.

To help with the increase in tests, TU stood up a new test facility, built by university facilities staff in less than six weeks. Located on the ground level of the West Village Garage, the 6,000-square-foot West Village Testing Center opened Feb. 15. The Health Center test location remains open, as well, and is the primary location for sentinel testing of faculty and staff.

“I am so very proud of how our entire university community has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. This new testing center shows the capability of our university to respond to challenges,” says President Kim Schatzel. “Our expanded sentinel testing plan will allow us to better monitor and manage the presence of the virus on our campus.”

TU can now administer more than 10 times as many tests as in the fall term. In total, the new West Village Testing Center can complete more than 100 tests per hour, while the Health Center location can perform 80 tests per hour.  

“I want to sincerely thank our facilities, technology and art services staff for the incredible, collaborative effort to stand up this new facility in short order,” says Ben Lowenthal, vice president for administration and finance. “This quick and thorough work will directly benefit our students and the health and safety of our campus community.”

TU will administer approximately 4,600 tests per week this term, compared to 455 tests per week on average in the fall. Sentinel testing is limited to those individuals—students, faculty and staff—who are on campus regularly.

“This new facility will only help in the compliance of our student population to complete sentinel testing,” says Vernon Hurte, vice president of student affairs. “By making it easier for our students to be tested, our compliance will benefit. And in monitoring and managing the presence of the virus, we’ll be able to become a more vibrant campus again.”

The West Village Testing Center specializes in rapid testing, with PCR tests utilized for those who have positive rapid tests or a rapid test that did not run successfully. It features 12 private testing areas, with the ability to add four more if needed, compared to four testing areas at the existing TU Health Center facility. 

With more than 1,700 students living on campus, plus students coming for in-person classes, there has been an increased need for testing on campus. Students living on campus and commuter students routinely on campus will be notified via email and required to complete rapid sentinel tests twice weekly. The student population is broken into two groups—one being tested in the first half of the spring term, one being tested in the latter half of the term.

Left graphic Individuals to be Tested Spring 2021 with larger yellow circle labeled 19,413 Full-time students, faculty and staff and a smaller black circle inside labeled 4,400. Right graphic, Tests Administered Weekly, one bar labeled Fall 2020: 455 and a taller bar labeled Spring 2021: 4,605
This spring Towson University is increasing the frequency of its sentinel testing program, a random sample testing of the on-campus community.

The new center was designed to make the process as comfortable and convenient for students as possible. 

“We've really looked into what are we going to do for these students so they are able to sit here for 15 minutes and not say, ‘I'm freezing,’ or ‘This chair is uncomfortable,’” says Bryan Schlein, COVID-19 testing site coordinator. Such details include installing a 100% fresh air heating system and adding stadium seat pads on each chair. “We’ve really done our best to make sure the experience is positive and also expedited as possible.”

What to expect 

As students arrive at the West Village Testing Center, they are welcomed by a greeter who lets the student know what they need for registration. The student then goes to registration, where staff confirm their appointment and direct them to the testing area.  

At the testing site, trained swabbers can administer the student’s rapid test. Students perform the test themselves, under supervision of the professional. A registration associate scans the testing kit and makes sure every test ends up in TU’s computer database.  

After the test, students are guided to the resulting station, where results are available after 15 minutes. Students with a negative test result receive their “golden ticket.” Students must provide this documentation to Towson University Police Department volunteers to return to campus.

A team effort behind the scenes

When looking for a location, the West Village Garage made the most sense. The new testing center is a brief walk for students living in West Village residence halls, and the garage is also easily accessible to commuters.

But transforming a parking garage—with its sloping floors and concrete surfaces—into a state-of-the-art testing center came with plenty of challenges. It was possible thanks to collaboration among many teams throughout the university, including facilities management, the Office of Technology Services (OTS), the University Health Center and the Division of Student Affairs. 

“At the design phase, all we provided was a very broad vision,” says Anthony Skevakis, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “A lot of pride and a lot of attention to detail went into it.”  

Operations and maintenance teams worked overtime to build the space. “It looked like an episode of HGTV,” says Michael Snider, who led the construction team. “Drywall was being hung as the framer was still framing, and painters were applying joint tape and finish as the drywall was being installed.” 

a closer look

West Village Testing Center by the Numbers

  • 2,200 feet of cable running to 18 data outlets
  • 4 wireless access points
  • 18 laptops
  • 70,000 barcodes to track and report test results
  • 16 posters, 9 vinyl graphics and 13 station signs directing visitors through the space
  • 6,000-square-foot testing center capacity
  • 200 sheets of drywall and 400 studs

OTS worked behind the scenes to build application infrastructure to support the backend testing processes, including sending notifications to users to be tested, automating the management of tests, updating the university’s internal data monitoring, launching a new test scheduling application and building a solution to process and record results. 

Visitors can see TU pride throughout the new space in the form of custom signage and graphics produced by the departments of creative services and art services.  

“Doc is on all of our marketing for all of our signs,” Schlein says. “Everything down to the smallest detail is black and gold.”  

To fill out this new facility, along with new staff members, there have been volunteers from across campus. This includes Student Affairs staff members, nursing and exercise science students and other members of campus who may have never worked in a health care facility before.  

“The success of the project—from planning, building and staffing a new facility in less than two months—is an example of teamwork in the Towson University community,” President Schatzel says.

“This has been a masterclass of the top leaders providing autonomy, creativity and empowerment to our team to put together this vision and make this happen,” Skevakis says. “We've had volunteers who have consolidated their work schedule so they can come in for a complete day to donate their time and make the center a success.” 

It all serves to uplift the health and safety of students and the Tiger community. “It's what we're here for,” says Kevin Petersen, associate vice president of facilities management. “It's all about taking care of the students.” 

Looking for expert commentary? To speak to one of Towson University’s world-class faculty experts about this or any other topic, contact Matt Palmer, director of media relations and news, at .