RMBL Summer 2021 Operations Report

RMBL Summer 2021 Operations Report

TO: RMBL scientists, students, staff, and other stakeholders
FROM: Ian Billick, Kelly Sudderth, Jennie Reithel, Brett Biebuyck and Steve Jennison

RE: Review of 2021 Operations
DATE: October 15, 2021

Thank you for another great year of science and education at RMBL! Each year, we ask for your feedback and formally assess operations at the close of the summer season. We do this so we can: 1) identify changes that would be beneficial, and 2) prioritize those changes, balancing financial and staffing constraints. This memo communicates:
1) Our synthesis of the feedback we received this year,
2) Goals for improving future operations (both in 2022 and longer-term), and
3) Our progress on the goals we set after the 2020 season.

As a reminder, in 2020 RMBL published a visual guide on RMBL decision-making. The objective of this project was to equip the active scientist community and other interested stakeholders to effectively engage in and shape decision-making at RMBL. If you have not already done so, we encourage you to study the guide, which can be found on our website: Visual Guide on RMBL Decision Making.

2021 was the second summer of RMBL operating with the virus and we are not aware of any cases in on-site residents of COVID-19 at RMBL this summer. We attribute this success to an exceptionally high vaccination rate of our community as well as the buy-in, compliance, and flexibility that we saw with the community. RMBL was able to effectively amend operations with declining infection rates early in the summer and to adjust again later in the summer with the resurgence of the Delta variant.

We are planning for fewer COVID-related disruptions summer 2022
For budget and planning purposes, at this time we expect operations to be close to normal for summer 2022. This means we expect full capacity in Gothic residences. This approach will depend on universal vaccination of Gothic residents, and we will evaluate the need for a vaccine mandate (with exemptions as may be allowed by law) for those living in Gothic. We will continue to evaluate the situation and communicate important updates with you via the website and the PI listserv.

What did the evaluation process look like this year?
As in other years, we established a “flash” survey which was available throughout the summer so we could get a quick take from you on how the summer was going. We received 83 responses for the online exit survey at the end of the summer. Staff conducted in-person exit interviews with 14 members of the community. We also relied on staff observations and informal feedback.

How do we use your feedback and responses?
You are the RMBL users – so your feedback is important to us. You see things that we don’t or won’t see because of how you interact with what RMBL offers. We compiled the results of the online surveys, exit interviews and other informal feedback, which we are using to inform our operational planning and budgeting for 2022.

Operational goals for 2022
Implementation of the items below is contingent upon the 2022 budget and availability of staff time. These items were selected because they were mentioned numerous times in surveys, interviews, or via informal feedback and they are actionable within our financial means (i.e. specific enough to design a solution).

1. Update Remington cabin.
2. Create streamlined communications for spring and fall operations, including updates on road status, available RMBL services, internet and water availability in Gothic, cow migrations, and other important news. We will look at developing a color-coded system to easily communicate the seasonal status of RMBL services.
3. Provide additional spaces for private communications. This could include private rooms with good communication equipment (Wi-Fi, IP phone) and space for a few people to meet.
4. Re-focusing on RMBL community interaction as we learn to live with COVID. Assuming COVID is not a barrier, we will offer a scientific seminar series and encourage and support other targeted social events. We intend to revert Ruby Lounge back to a community meeting space after being used as a residence the last two years.
5. Increase the availability of well-functioning common use bikes in Gothic, including expanding the availability of motorized bicycles. We will offer training on bike use. We will continue to explore opportunities for supporting other methods for field site access for those without vehicles.
6. Improve communication within the Undergraduate Program. We will consider alternatives to using an online education platform.
7. Provide, in a user-friendly manner, required training on codes of conduct, behavioral expectations, and misconduct reporting for all RMBL residents. We also hope to provide skills-building workshops on bystander intervention and DEI topics.
8. Improve the ability for community members to easily communicate their gender identities and pronouns when they wish. We will add the ability to voluntarily add these details to user accounts in the RMBL Community Portal and provide name tags for orientation and other activities where this information can be voluntarily displayed.
9. Based on the recommendations from a professional report, continue efforts on RMBL’s fire mitigation program around the Gothic townsite, which could include protecting buildings from fire threats and managing vegetation around buildings. We will also focus on providing safe opportunities and infrastructure for community campfires when conditions are appropriate.
10. We will again deploy a limited number of residential tents in the Gothic townsite to add additional housing capacity and flexibility. We will continue to evaluate the best way to schedule, assign, and use tents in this capacity.
11. We will look at adding increased functionality and flexibility in managing dining reservations including shorter lead times allowed for reservations, more flexibility in requesting vegetarian meals, and easier management of group and minor reservations in the online portal. We will evaluate methods of distributing leftovers to the community when they are available. Due to anticipated staffing challenges, we expect that we will only offer meat and vegetarian options in the dining hall next summer.

Operating in a challenging labor market
RMBL has not been immune to challenging labor markets, supply chains, and other disruptions to “normal” operations, many precipitated, or at least influenced, by COVID. While the country, and world, have struggled with these changes, a local housing crisis and extreme labor shortage in the Gunnison Valley have amplified these challenges for RMBL operations. For example, many businesses in the valley, especially restaurants, have closed or limited operations due to staffing difficulties and the Crested Butte Community School has eliminated bus and food service for students. We anticipate hiring for seasonal positions to be very challenging. We will be looking at ways to improve our recruitment and retention effectiveness, but if pressed, some services may need to be modified if we are not able to be fully staffed. As we plan for next season, we will advertise our opportunities with the RMBL community and will communicate with you about any expected alterations to our services. We are all ambassadors for the RMBL, and we’d love to have your help bringing in new additions to our community.

Updates on long-term goals for operations
The strategic plan includes important long-term goals for operations. We made significant progress on these goals in 2021:
Addressing deferred maintenance at Gothic.
o RMBL hired a year-round Facilities Manager scheduled to start in Spring 2022. This position will add capacity and expertise to the RMBL facilities team, with a specific focus on maintaining, repairing, and upgrading Gothic facilities. The permanent nature of the position (not seasonal) should reduce turnover, allowing the position to become more familiar and effective at the operation and upkeep of a unique physical infrastructure as time goes on. Steve Jennison will continue as RMBL’s Director of Facilities and his focus will shift to planning and managing construction projects, including the new 4-season cabin in Gothic, staff housing in CB South, and the Mt. Crested Butte campus.
o We received funding from the NSF for a new, four-season cabin. With a very challenging construction environment in 2021, work on the cabin was delayed in 2021 and will be constructed in 2022-2023 next to the new Crystal cabin. We may shift some cabins down in the fee structure when this cabin comes online. Note that a general trend we’re seeing in the community is a request for more privacy within housing and that comes at a cost.
• Improving (or replacing) Wi-Fi.
o 2021 saw continued upgrading of Wi-Fi equipment around Gothic. We will look at expanding Wi-Fi availability in additional outside areas, especially around large porches, in order to offer more semi-private space for phone calls and web conferences. Wi-Fi and internet comments for the year were overwhelmingly positive. IT infrastructure has come a long way in Gothic!
• Expanding RMBL’s data infrastructure.
o RMBL’s new cloud-based portal for administering research, submitting applications, and making reservations is live. Stage one was completed last winter and includes the basic functionality of account creation, research project registration and administration, and housing and meal administration. Next steps for the portal will include improving the customer experience after a year of real-world use and feedback, adding the ability for minors to be easily managed under adult accounts, adding registration functions for additional RMBL activities, and adding functionality for PIs and project managers to see and manage more aspects of activity on their project.
o RMBL offers data services including but not limited to drone imagery acquisition, data curation and archiving assistance, and support for spatial data analysis.
o Spatial data and other data products and datasets are found on the RMBL data catalog.
• Improving navigation and information flows on the RMBL website.
o As part of the portal project discussed above, we will start migrating appropriate logistical information from the public website to the community portal. This will help organize and declutter the website as we continue to evaluate new website designs.
• Developing and realizing a sustainable financial model which adequately supports building, lab, equipment, and IT infrastructure for the RMBL community.
o We expect to launch a capital campaign in 2022 to support investments in the North Village campus, RMBL’s spatial ecology program, and data management. Additionally, we are pursuing federal funding for these investments.
o We are seeing increasing inflationary pressures on local housing costs, employee benefits, materials, food and costs for contractors to provide maintenance/repair services in Gothic. We plan to hold fee increases for 2022 to around 3% and to maintain fellowship support at 2021 levels (which doubles fellowship offerings over previous year). However, if inflation continues at the current rates of 5% or more, we could be looking at significant increases for 2023. We recommend that you contact Kelly (kelly@rmbl.org) if you are working on grant budgets for 2023 or beyond to make sure you budget appropriately for RMBL expenses.

Progress report on goals set for 2021
In 2020 we set eight primary goals. Below is a list of those goals and our progress this year.
1. Update Remington cabin. The work to upgrade the Remington Cabin was postponed. Much of our attention needed to be shifted to the nearby Gates cabin when several problems with ventilation and mold were discovered in the spring. The problems were remediated, upgrades were made to the ventilation, and the cabin was refitted for occupation. In addition, significant work was also performed on the Calder cabin preparing it for year-round operation with the increased winter use of Gothic. Work on Remington Cabin remains a priority.
2. Continue to facilitate better bike management in Gothic. We instituted a bike registration program that allows us to identify owners of individual bikes and to manage those that have been abandoned. All legacy bikes of unknown ownership were chained up in the spring then registered and distributed on request of the owners. All unclaimed bikes at the end of the summer were registered as RMBL community bikes and are now available to the entire community, over 20 bikes in total! We hope to have these bikes professionally evaluated and the bikes worth investing in will be repaired and maintained to ensure a well-operating fleet. RMBL also purchased a community motorized bicycle available for checkout as a pilot program. Most reviews of the bike program were very positive and we hope to expand the fleet with more motorized bikes and size options and formalize scheduling, training, and maintenance of the fleet.
3. Offering online documentation and/or training opportunities for RMBL researchers, students, and staff, including:
a. Responsible Conduct of Research
b. Diversity training
c. Title IX training
With the completion of stage one of the RMBL Community Portal, we will soon be in the position to offer online training that is integrated within the Portal experience. The design will be such that RMBL community members will be able to log into their accounts, easily find and take trainings, and their progress will be tracked in the system with the rest of their RMBL information. We intend to add a misconduct training (including Title IX) for all RMBL community members that will be required before other activities are allowed, including RMBL research and housing. Other trainings will be integrated as they are developed. Trainings not able to be offered in the portal will still be able to be logged and tracked in the system.
4. Offering resources (web links, literature) on our website for labs to incorporate cultural safety into their lab safety plans. A website was created that links to some of the better resources that we have found that address cultural safety. RMBL staff also participated in a number of trainings and workshops, including some offered by the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS). We will work to incorporate what we have learned into our practices as well as make more materials and resources available to the entire community. RMBL is working with OBFS to host more workshops on these topics that will be available to anyone in the spring of 2022. We will advertise these to the community when the details are finalized this spring.
5. Incremental improvements to cabin plumbing, to standardize plumbing infrastructure and thereby facilitate cost-effective and quicker repairs. This work continued in an incremental fashion. Three showers were replaced with standardized fixtures. We also smaller upgrades and repairs around the campus. In August, RMBL completed a required inspection and sanitary survey of our water system and received a passing grade with positive reviews. In a complicated regulatory environment and unique systems in Gothic, this is a job well done!
6. Replace Moodle for the undergrad program with a different online platform. Moodle was replaced with MyAthena. However, evaluation of these platforms for use in RMBL’s undergraduate programming has led to the conclusion that they may be unnecessary, and other methods of coordination and communication will better serve the program. We will evaluate the website and other existing tools for these functions in 2022.
7. Enhance RMBL’s fire mitigation program around the Gothic townsite, which could include: trimming trees, removing trees, and establishing larger defensible spaces around cabins. The first step in this process was to have the Gothic campus professionally evaluated by wildfire mitigation specialists. We want work on this important issue to be targeted and informed by the best practices and local conditions. An inspection by West Region Wildfire Council and Colorado State Forest Service was conducted in late summer. While we are waiting for the final report, the protection of buildings and other
infrastructure and vegetation management adjacent to buildings will likely be top priorities moving forward.
8. Provide better instructions for the laundry machines. It seemed that confusion on laundry machine operation was minimal this year. We identified that overly soiled clothes were likely responsible for fouling subsequent loads of laundry. We are evaluating the possibility of adding a laundry sink to the laundry room or nearby so very dirty items can be prewashed. Also, some machines were problematic this summer and required involved repairs. After delays receiving the correct parts, all repairs were completed in the fall and all machines are currently operational.

Other ways you can provide feedback
While we strongly encourage participation in the annual online exit survey, we welcome your feedback at any time. We encourage you to give us your thoughts on pretty much anything, including items you think we have missed, feedback on how we have analyzed the information we received, or how we have prioritized our responses. You can contact Kelly, RMBL’s Chief Operating Officer, at kelly@rmbl.org or (830) 358-3501 or Brett Biebuyck, RMBL’s Director of Administration, at brett@rmbl.org or (970) 349- 7231 at any time throughout the year.

If you have any feedback that might have budgetary implications for 2022, please provide feedback no later than November 15 so we have time to consider that for the 2022 budget cycle.