It’s a focal point in The Lair, an amenity that normally gathers groups of students for morning cartoons and fans for Cougar football games.

The big screen in the first-floor lounge of the Compton Student Union Building was rolled up at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, that big screen is back.

It was rolled back down Tuesday in The Lair, the CUB’s largest multi-use space, also outfitted with a projector—of course—along with socially-distanced study spaces, signs reminding people to mask up, and spray bottles filled with disinfectant as well as dispensers of hand sanitizer. The return of the big screen is part of a phased-in return of activities and events in the heart of the WSU Pullman campus.

“We don’t know when we’ll be in the final phase, but we do know we expect a lot more students in the fall—and we need to be ready for that,” says Karee Shaw, director of facilities and operations for the CUB.

Meantime, she says, “We’re open, and you can safely come here.”

The central gathering spot on the Pullman campus—for students, faculty, staff, and visitors alike—is beginning to spring back to life. While operations at the CUB aren’t quite back to full speed, they have been expanding and new opportunities are opening up.

“It’s ramped up a little more in the last few weeks,” Spencer Desmarais, assistant director of event services and operations at the CUB. “The spring definitely has more people wanting to be out and about.”

Though foot traffic is down from pre-pandemic levels, patrons are actually staying longer. “We’re seeing 600 to 800 people a day,” Desmarais says. “The front desk keeps a tally. We still have quite a bit of traffic, but it’s definitely more spaced out. Normally, we see 10,000 to 12,000 a day, and we’re busiest from 10 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. Now, we’re seeing traffic evenly throughout the day. And they’re not in here for 15 or 20 minutes, which was typical. They’re in here for two or three hours.”

Turning the dial

Along with the big screen, seven comfy crimson chairs were added back to The Lair on Tuesday, joining several study stations, which now feature more than one chair per table. The nearby first-floor Quiet Lounge is also equipped with socially distanced study stations. So is the Junior Ballroom on the second floor. The M.G. Carey Senior Ballroom is also occasionally open for study. It’s reservable, so where there are reservations it’s offline for drop-in study. In-person meetings and events are slowly starting to come back. A few have already been hosted, and more are on the calendar for the ballrooms as well as the first-floor auditorium.

Some seating has also been added back to the first-floor food court, where Carlita’s continues to sell Mexican food. Freshens, Panda Express, and Subway remain closed, but are expected to re-open sometime in mid to late summer as more students return to campus.

All three second-floor meeting rooms have been converted to hybrid spaces to accommodate socially-distanced in-person meetings with virtual participants. And, a third-floor conference room has been converted to a new streaming room, complete with two cameras, lighting equipment, screens, and microphones. Departments and registered student organizations can now reserve room 310 through the CUB website. A new YouTube video provides step-by-step instructions on how to properly use the space.

“The goal is to help people produce a high-quality stream without a cat jumping on their lap or a roommate coming in,” Desmarais says. “They can plug in their computer and use pro-level gear, and the sound is great. It hasn’t been used much yet, but we don’t anticipate in-person meetings going through the roof right away.  We know we can keep it a streaming suite for at least the next year, if not longer.”

Staying safe

Signage at the entrances, on the floors, and in the stairwells remind patrons to wear masks and what direction to walk. Increased cleaning is also taking place. The CUB’s seven full-time custodians work both day and night shifts. So do its eight part-time student custodians. And there are about 30 sanitization stations located throughout the building.

“We recommend that you clean your area before and after use,” says Renee Bourgeois, a senior hospitality business management major from Burbank. Plus, “we have an hourly cleaning task sheet. We’ve been doing that since when COVID first started. We’ve been constantly cleaning, it seems like.”

Bourgeois has worked at the CUB’s information desk since the end of December 2019. “It’s definitely been a change of pace,” she notes. “Things are not as crazy busy as usual. But numbers are increasing, especially in the past month. Every hour we do a head count, and each hour is increasing from previous months. Now that the big screen is back up and there’s more seating, I think it will increase even more.”

The Apple-certified CORETECH store, WSECU and US Bank branches, Chase and Bank of America ATMs, CougPrints Plus, and CougarCard Center have all been open during all or most of the pandemic. The Bookie, including its Bookie Café and Market, has been open since last summer, just after the initial lockdown.

Butch’s Den and Reunion Social Lounge are also open. And CUB staff have been working closely with departments and student organizations that have offices in the building, including the Student Entertainment Board, the KZUU student-run radio station, the Office of Multicultural Student Services, the Associated Students of Washington State University, or ASWSU, and the Gender Identity/Expression and Sexual Orientation Resource Center, or GIESORC.

Patrons must complete a daily attestation, wear a mask, and follow COVID-19 protocols. Then, they can root for their favorite teams in The Lair. 

Expect to see March Madness games on the big screen—and whatever else the student workers at the information desk choose. “They’ll take requests,” Desmarais says, adding, “It’s nice to have some noise in here.”  

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Editor’s note: This article is part of a WSU Insider series spotlighting the careful, phased re-opening of WSU’s residential campus in Pullman as it prepares for the return to in-person instruction.