2020 Awardee: TCF Center in Detroit Recognized as “Community Safe Haven”

TCF Center, photo credit: Steve Neavling and Metro Times

On August 12th, 2021 at the Michigan Energy Summit, the TCF Center of Detroit, MI was recognized by the Michigan Battle of the Buildings with the Community Safe Haven award. The TCF Center is more than deserving of recognition for their outstanding servitude to the Detroit and Michigan community. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the TCF Center pivoted responsively with the humble question, “How can we help?” Recognizing that they had a large building that could offer space and resources for those in need, the TCF Center quickly became a community safe haven for downtown Detroit.

Dawn Hesse, Labor Service Manager, was reminded of the quote “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” as the team considered how they could possibly give back during that unprecedented time. With so much space to offer, the TCF Center’s doors first opened to Forgotten Harvest in March 2020. Volunteers received truckloads of assorted food, repackaging them into individual family boxes for distribution across Detroit. Over the course of just two weeks, the generous volunteers were able to process approximately 12 thousand boxes back to the community.

The TCF Center field hospital under construction in early April. Photo Cred: Paulette Parker, Michigan Radio

By the end of the month, the TCF Center was designated by FEMA and Governor Whitmer as a temporary alternate care facility to help alleviate the overcrowded southeast Michigan hospitals. Within just 9 days, a field hospital for up to 1,000 COVID-19 patients was constructed with full-service oxygen beds, negatively pressurized spaces, administrative offices, and ambulance receiving docks. The transformation of the conference center to a pop-up hospital was something the TCF Center couldn’t have predicted in January. But here they were, working alongside the State of Michigan, FEMA, National Guard, Army Corp of Engineers, Henry Ford & McClaren Hospitals. 

Simultaneously, TCF provided Exhibit Hall B to Battelle for the purpose of medically sanitizing masks to be returned back to the community when there was a public PPE shortage. With 425 facilities actively sending them product, Battelle worked onsite literally 24/7 processing over 50,000 masks at the TCF Center. This site’s success rate of 63% recycling conversion was well above the industry average of 58%. This redistribution center serviced not only southeast Detroit, but also other states when masks were in such short supply.

Every Friday, TCF Center assisted Food Rescue USA by providing loading docks, skilled staff, and lift equipment to receive large truckloads of food from around the country.  TCF became a distribution point for food pantries, religious organizations, and community centers. Over 7 million pounds of food was processed at the TCF Center by Food Rescue USA between Summer 2020 and Spring 2021.

TCF Center transformed into a field hospital. Photo Cred: TCF Center

Pope St. Francis Warming Center opened at the TCF Center that winter 2020 to serve more than 200 homeless people each day with hot meals and a place to stay warm when the ambient air temperatures dropped to under 20 degrees Fahrenheit. This operation was much more than a place to eat and warm up. TCF Center converted the top two floors into sleeping quarters, outfitted showers, and laundry areas. Social services including housing, health, COVID vaccinations, and legal counsel were available to everyone who entered. 

In November, TCF Center was the site of Ballot Counting for the 2020 General Election.

In January 2021, the TCF Center became Detroit’s largest drive-through vaccination clinic as it transformed its parking garage into a drive-through facility. The garage already had everything necessary for safety: space for patients to remain in their vehicles, drainage for the melted snow, orderly traffic directions, and an exhaust system for tailpipe emissions. However, they did need heat for health practitioners who were administering the vaccines.  TCF was able to add 13 million BTUs of heat in a cost-effective manner using natural gas. They also renovated the exhaust system and wrote code to monitor 48 different areas in the garage that would activate localized exhaust fans when levels of carbon monoxide and other atmospheric pollutants were detected. Safety was a top priority!

Al Vasquez accepting the 2020 Community Save Haven award on behalf of TCF Center.

Amidst these constantly changing building uses, the facilities team was meticulous to create separate zones between the various operations. The team was highly strategic to steward TCF’s energy use wisely in concert with safety protocols. With a 100-air handling unit capacity, TCF’s careful planning and scheduling reduced the average air handling units in use to about a dozen at one time. One strategy included stacking the segregated zones to be served by the same vertically integrated air handling unit without risk of cross exposure. Through careful research, the TCF Center devised top procedures to make sure air changes aligned with health best practices without excessive energy costs. At the beginning of the pandemic, TCF Center was accredited with the GBAC Star Service Certification. This certification validates excellence in operations based on cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention protocols. The TCF Center already operates at such a gold standard that no adjustments were necessary to meet the certification guidelines.

The TCF Center and specifically Al Vasquez, Manager of Engineering Services, have been recognized with 5 awards as a result of the support provided during the pandemic including The Legion of Merit medal from the State of Michigan, Challenge coin from the Michigan National Guard, Challenge coin from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the Challenge coin from the Henry Ford Health Systems Medical Lead and the Community Safe Haven Award from the Michigan Battle of the Buildings.