Reporter’s notebook: A snapshot of BYU campus during the COVID-19 summer

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Fences block off a portion of the sidewalk in front of the library. Signs indicate that it is a construction area, though it’s unclear what is being worked on. The BYU campus has been empty this summer since classes are online and all conferences were canceled. The university has used this as an opportunity to complete a few construction projects. (Hannah Miner)

I entered the BYU campus from the south side by making my way through the flower garden trails near the duck pond. There were a few people around, mostly joggers and small families taking walks. I saw clumps of benches that were likely filled with EFY kids this time last year. Today the benches are empty.

As I began my walk around campus, the first thing I noticed was construction. There’s a hole in the sidewalk just west of the Eyring Science Center, West Campus Drive is blocked off by the construction of the new West View Building, and the stairs that go under that road and lead to the Smith Field house are still unfinished. Those stairs were under construction for most of the last school year.

Later in the day, I emailed university communications to ask about the various construction projects on campus and if they’ll be finished in time for Fall Semester. Media relations manager Todd Hollingshead responded, informing me that the West View Building is set to finish before fall and that the other main project that the university is focusing on is the new Music Building, which has only just begun construction.

Construction workers outside the Spence W. Kimball tower. BYU has used this summer as a time to get a few different construction projects going while students aren’t on campus. (Hannah Miner)

Hollingshead also said BYU has taken advantage of the lack of people on campus to start more projects. He added that while he thinks many of the smaller projects are planned to be finished before the end of the summer, there’s always a chance that they could spill over into fall.

I walked by a man near the Richards building who waited for me to pass before getting on the sidewalk so that we never came within six feet of each other. It made me wonder what the time between classes, when the sidewalks are usually so crowded, will look like this fall with students back on campus.

Walking up the white bridge on the north side of campus I passed a young lady out for a walk with two smaller children. After I passed, I heard the little boy screaming into the empty tunnel leading to the Marriott Center. “Echo! Echo! Echo!” he yelled. I smiled and stopped to look out over campus.

Suddenly I found myself wondering whether the flowers in front of the Abraham Smoot Building are especially bright and beautiful right now, or if I’ve just never bothered to look at them properly before. Either way, it seems like the grounds workers have been keeping busy. I watched a small group of workers stand by one of the flower beds waiting for a golf cart that was driving towards them with gardening supplies.

I kept walking. Outside the Museum of Art, there were three men standing over what looked like three lampposts on the ground. The oldest of the three was instructing the others in proper lamppost assembly. On the backside of the ASB, there was a family standing by the doors as if they were trying to get in, but the building was locked.

In fact, the only two buildings on campus that were open were the Harold B. Lee Library and the Wilkinson Student Center. Both had blocked off tables and signs asking visitors to please wear masks.

I started heading back to the south of campus to go home and passed a group of window washers cleaning the side of the Thomas L. Martin Building. Farther along, someone was replacing the “building closed” signs on the freshly cleaned doors of the Kimball Tower.

A few people walk around the BYU campus, which has been mostly empty since students were sent home at the end of Winter Semester 2020. (Hannah Miner)

The empty campus felt strangely peaceful. Most of the people I saw were wearing masks and it wasn’t hard to maintain social distance. But the question lingered in the back of my mind, “Can it stay like this? With over 30,000 students returning for school, will the campus be safe?”

I’m no expert, and I can’t answer that question with any level of surety, but I know I’ll be doing my best to ensure the safety of other students. I can only hope they do the same for me.

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