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CU Anschutz Rolls Out ‘Fresh-Air Break Room’ for Safety-Minded Respites

Creativity and teamwork combine to throw shade – in a good way – at Boettcher Commons

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Written by Chris Casey on September 3, 2020
  • What you need to know: It’s a fall semester like no other at CU Anschutz. Campus units collaborated to offer the ‘Boettcher Fresh-Air Break Room’, and other solutions are planned to provide safe gathering spaces for students, faculty and staff.

It’s the noon hour, and students are enjoying a lunch break in Boettcher Commons at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. While there’s nothing unusual about that, that’s where the “old normal” of the familiar scene ends.

Large tents, with limited numbers of Adirondack chairs beneath them, are spread across the lawn, erected with social distancing in mind. The outdoor space also pops with an array of umbrellas spaced smartly in the grass. They invite students, faculty and staff to take a mask-free break during their day.

Welcome to fall semester in the COVID era.

Creating safe spaces

“It’s nice out here,” said Jamie Ernewein. She joined two other Modern Human Anatomy graduate students, Amanda Telfer and Emily Anderson, for lunch under one of the tents. They also got in some studying, cradling textbooks and laptops.

Anderson noted that gathering spots are limited indoors these days. The study area in the Modern Human Anatomy Department in the Fitzsimons Building requires a reservation, so the outdoor spot – unofficially dubbed the “Boettcher Fresh-Air Break Room” – is a welcome oasis.


Boettcher Commons transforms daily into the “Boettcher Fresh-Air Break Room,” a place to relax and take a break from your mask.

“Having the restrictions (on building access and indoor group study) are better than being negligent,” Anderson said.

From ‘crop circles’ to tents

The “fresh-air break room” evolved from basic and painted beginnings – a group of “crop circles” in 6-foot spacings on the commons. Terri Carrothers, executive vice chancellor for administration and finance and chief financial officer, pointed out that Andre Vite, CU Anschutz executive director for institutional planning, and Jay Campbell, associate vice chancellor for facilities operations, weighed in with ideas and the manpower to set up the tents and umbrellas each day. CU Anschutz Student Services pitched in the Adirondack chairs.

“Community and creativity prevails,” Carrothers said. “We have a lot of great minds, talent and creativity on this campus. They are partnering to find safe solutions for our campus community.”

So far, the outdoor spaces have been well-received. “The whole point is we’ve got some students who are in class for five or six hours a day,” Vite said. “We need to provide someplace for them to go and take their masks off for a while.”

Likewise, campus units are collaborating on concepts for break areas in the research quad on the west side of campus. Additionally, Vite said, “we know we’ve got to solve for winter, and we’re actively working on that now.”

In the meantime, don’t be surprised to see more outdoor spaces on campus resembling an umbrella-speckled beach.