How Flanders Expo built the largest exam hall in Belgium

Flanders Expo examenlokaal

How do you organise exams for hundreds of students in one and the same hall if you have to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres between each desk? For a long time this was the exam question that no one could answer. But look: with a bit of creativity we were able to transform the Ghent Flanders Expo into the largest exam hall in our country. We met with site manager Katrien Verhoeven – at a responsible distance, of course.

This is not the first time that Flanders Expo is lending a helping hand during the present crisis. The events venue initially put itself forward as a possible triage centre, but fortunately that never turned out to be necessary. Katrien’s team also looked into the possibility of storing containers that remained ashore for a longer period of time for the Seaport of Ghent and donated the Easter chocolate already ordered for its employees to the nearby Maria Middelares Hospital.

And then came the request from Ghent University and Ghent University College.

107.000 exams

Over the past few weeks, the most frequently asked question in the academic world was probably: ‘What about the exams?’ Auditoriums are big, but not big enough. So, what can be done to make sure that every student can still take his or her exams in June?

With eight events halls and an empty events calendar, Flanders Expo turned out to be a true lifesaver. ‘We will be organising around 107,000 exams here until the end of June,’ says Katrien Verhoeven. ‘The exams will be held in shifts and in five different halls. Antwerp Expo and Namur Expo will soon be receiving thousands of students – and even prospective police officers – for their final exams as well.’

We are convinced that we can apply the same safety measures to trade fairs.

Katrien Verhoeven, vestigingsverantwoordelijke Flanders Expo

8 kilometres of crowd control barriers

There are few students who compare their exam period to an event, but in terms of production there is really very little difference. ‘We have installed around eight kilometres of crowd control barriers in all. This will allow us to literally herd the daily influx of students in the right direction. The signage and communication plan has also been adapted and ensures that each student will quickly find the way to the right disinfected desk.’

To keep all this traffic flowing smoothly, Flanders Expo converted Hall 1 – one of the largest halls in our country – into a ‘crowd control room’. This is where all the students will gather at a safe distance from one another and the employees of the university and university college will send everyone to the right hall.

examens Flanders Expo

From 1 to 11 entrances

Getting thousands of students in through one entrance is not a good idea during a pandemic. ‘That’s why we divided our second-largest room – Hall 8 – into eleven zones, each with a separate entrance.’

This is also good news for those who kept a bit too much distance to achieve a passing mark: students needing to retake their exams will also be welcome at Flanders Expo in August and September. ‘But if everyone is diligent in their studies, we hopefully will not need all five halls again,’ says Katrien Verhoeven with a smile.

Normally, this hall is reserved for mega-productions because of its impressive sound-proof wall. However, with thousands of students racking their brains, it will be uncommonly quiet here during the coming weeks.

Waiting for the green light

Organising exams is one thing, but what about trade fairs where everyone likes to wander about at will? ‘We are convinced that we can apply the same strict security measures to trade fairs. If we take the compulsory four square metres per person into account, we will be able to receive 13,500 visitors on the entire Flanders Expo premises. That is quite a feat.’

Furthermore, Flanders Expo has already made some precautionary adjustments to its halls: a system will be introduced that constantly monitors the number of people present and temperatures will be taken at the entrance, for example.

So, now all we have to do is wait for the green light from the National Security Council. ‘We hope to have concrete news about this by 8 June. Then the first events can take place again starting in September. Of course, you also need some time to promote all those events and get them up and running.’

We are pleased that the organisation of the exams will allow the doors of Flanders Expo, Antwerp Expo and Namur Expo to be gradually reopened.

Alain D'Haese, COO Easyfairs Belgium
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