Birmingham’s upscale hotel is resorting to technology long used by hospital systems to help keep its guests safe in the era of COVID-19.
The Townsend Hotel, at 100 Townsend St., has installed a new ultraviolet light filter alongside its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in common areas in places like the lobby, the Rugby Grille and elsewhere. The goal, Director of Facilities Jason McGrew said, is to prevent bacteria and viruses — including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — from replicating before they reach guests.
“They mount a high-intensity ultraviolet bulb with a transformer power supply and that actually shines on the evaporator coil where all the airflow comes through,” McGrew said. “Any of the air returning in the system through the room, gets hit by this ultraviolet light and over time, the ultraviolet light will actually destroy the viruses and bacteria’s ability to replicate.”
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The technology isn’t new; it’s something that’s been used plenty at hospitals and even at barber shops to help keep instruments and rooms sterile.
Steven Kalczynski, the managing director of the hotel, said they began looking at long-term solutions in mid-spring when it was clear COVID-19 was something that would linger for some time. They began looking at various ways to keep visitors safe and found the American Ultraviolet system fit what they wanted.
“Since March, it’s been a moving target of what’s good for our customers, what’s not good for our customers and as the latest things come out and they’re somewhat proven, the ownership is committed to keeping that safe conversation going as we enter the winter months,” he said. “When we talked about coming inside, we talked about a variety of systems and we found this one to be the best one, that would fit the needs we were looking for.”
Some lights already installed
The systems were first installed around the Rugby Grille a few weeks ago. Having those systems running near the restaurant first, Kalczynski said, was crucial as the weather turns colder and more activity goes indoors.
“We knew at some point, the weather’s going to change, everyone’s moving in, so we thought this was the best way to approach it,” Kalczynski said.
The hotel’s lobby, gallery and tea room will all receive the system installed in the next few weeks, DeGrew said. When it comes to the guest rooms, the hotel utilizes several other safety protocols to keep guests safe, including removing nonessential items to reduce touch points and keeping rooms empty longer before cleaning them.
While the Rugby Grille has taken advantage of additional outdoor seating allowed by the city this summer, Kalczynski said it probably won’t offer much of that as the temperatures begin to reach freezing.
The city commission voted earlier this year to allow for continued outdoor dining throughout the winter, a step taken to allow some businesses to offer worried customers a place to eat outdoors. But that experience, Kalczynski said, won’t be one he wants guests to have. Having the additional measures in place, he said, will hopefully help keep diners’ minds at ease as opposed to donning those winter coats and gloves.
“You may cover the whole thing, you may have a roof to it, you may have heaters inside of it, but are you having a good dining experience? I just don’t think so,” Kalczynski said. “Whereas internally, we’ll still be able to do that.”
Like many other businesses, the last several months have been tough on the Townsend Hotel as well. The hotel’s bakery closed after more than two decades of operation and the hotel — like many other businesses earlier this year — furloughed and laid off staff in response to the measures taken against the coronavirus.
Having a plan to keep customers coming back, Kalczynski said, is critical to the hotel’s identity as a destination.
“In all honesty, we’ll do what we can to in order to continue that, because the hotel has been here for 32 years. Trust is everything,” he said. “We have many, many loyal customers that have been coming to us for years and we want to maintain that trust.”