Construction could limit space for socializing on campus
Billiard balls clacking, people chatting, Starbucks baristas calling out orders from behind the counter. Before its closure in March, the Student Center Satellite bustled with students like Morgan Trapp.
The biology sophomore spent the Friday afternoon before Spring Break hanging out with the Billiards Club at the Satellite’s pool tables. She emerged from the underground structure into the sunlight, not knowing it would be the last time she would ever visit.
“When I walked out, I didn’t expect that it was going to be the last time I was going to be in the Satellite with all of my friends because I was expecting to come back after break,” Trapp said.
Looking ahead and back
Originally scheduled for closure on April 30, the Satellite shut its doors in March after the pandemic forced University operations online.
And while UH plans to bring more people to campus with expanded face-to-face course offerings for Spring 2021, the Satellite will not resume operations.
Instead, the University plans to demolish the Satellite this spring and begin construction on the Auxiliary Retail Center that will open its doors by Spring 2023, said UH Auxiliary Services program director Rosie Ashley.
Initially intended for construction where the Technology Annex currently sits, the Auxiliary Retail Center construction project was moved to the Satellite site “after careful review with several campus stakeholders,” Ashley said.
Despite experiencing excitement for the new Auxiliary Retail Center, Trapp couldn’t help but feel let down that she never got the chance to gather with friends at the Satellite again.
“I did know that they were going to take it down and build something better eventually, but I was still bummed that they were going to take away the place where my club would meet every Friday.”
The new building will be an upgrade of its predecessor. Originally opened in 1973, the 35,000 square-foot Satellite was intended to “support student life with various dining options and activities,” said UH spokesperson Chris Stipes.
The structure’s below-ground construction aimed to maintain the campus’s open, parklike appearance. However, the design also caused flooding problems for the building and resulted in closures following heavy rains.
Following Hurricane Harvey, the Satellite remained closed for several weeks and locations including Starbucks and Smoothie King didn’t reopen for a year.
Home away from home
Despite sporadic closures, the Satellite served as a second home for students like biology senior Zack Wilke.
“Over my four years at UH, many of my days were spent there with friends and so it seemed like a home away from home,” Wilke said. “My time was spent chatting away with a group of friends, playing cards and talking about trivial matters. At some point, you forget you are even at school.”
An avid “Magic: The Gathering” player, Wilke spent his spare time between classes playing cards at the Satellite’s tables. He admires the space for its ability to bring people together and worries what its loss could mean for students looking for a stress-free space on campus.
“The Satellite served not only as an area to relax and eat, but it was a key meet-up spot for many,” Wilke said. “Beyond emotional connections, I feel that losing the Satellite leaves an imbalance between sociality, recreation and convenience. That’s one less place for students to be able to de-stress with friends.”
Student Centers North and South will continue to offer students living and studying on campus with limited seating options to maintain COVID-19 social distancing protocols.
Student ambassadors will monitor the communal spaces to ensure UH community members follow face mask, social distancing and gathering capacity policies, Stipes said.
“There are no plans to increase seating capacity in the Student Center(s), as we remain diligent in our efforts to create a campus environment that greatly reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19,” Stipes said.
“We will continue to monitor the capacity of all of our facilities during the spring, as well as perform our normal and enhanced cleaning across campus,” Stipes added.
For students used to communing at the Satellite, returning to campus won’t be the same without their usual space to socialize.
“The Satellite, although not the center of campus, certainly felt like it was,” Wilke said. “There was no stress and good laughs beyond those doors. The Satellite was multifaceted in that it could bring individuals together over something as simple as a game of pool.”