Living the Suite Life

Vanessa Helgeland ’21

Do your college stories include ordering room service while studying for finals? How about booking an entire swimming pool for only you and your roommate for a homework break? Perhaps hanging out in the lobby of a hotel that you just so happened to live in? No, this isn’t the Disney Channel sitcom “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody.” It was the reality of 17 St. Lawrence students during the COVID-19 reopening plan for campus in fall 2020. 

The reasons to opt in to St. Lawrence’s Best Western University Inn for campus housing was different for each student. Senior Kiana Plouffe ’21 chose to live in the Best Western in order to be guaranteed a private bathroom.

“I have asthma and I was already worried about coming back and getting sick,” she explains, “so interacting with the population at St. Lawrence less is best for me.” 

In prioritizing student and community health, St. Lawrence was forced to make major adjustments and rework housing assignments in order to make it possible for students to follow proper social distancing guidelines. This included limiting student capacity on campus to 1,800 by creating a three-semester model to allow for staggered occupancy. 

The result created a 6:1 student-bathroom ratio, more single occupancy, and lowered population density on campus overall, and minimized risks for students, faculty, and staff. In addition, 140 quarantine beds were secured in Kirk Douglas Hall to be available in the event of a necessary quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. 

After reshuffling housing assignments and filling vacancies, the University opened a new housing option for its students at the Best Western University Inn. Seventeen students participated, mostly seniors who were originally placed in Kirk Douglas Hall. Initially, life in the Best Western was perceived to be less than ideal, but after settling into the full-sized beds with the cool air from the AC, students learned to adjust to the suite life. 

Aside from being able to isolate more easily, there were other perks to living in the Best Western. Each room was equipped with two full-sized beds (much larger than the typical dorm bed), an air-conditioning unit, TV, microwave, minifridge, and full bathroom. 
“We were very lucky to have our own bathroom because COVID and sharing a bathroom was just not an option for me,” says Plouffe. 

In addition to being provided with the hotel amenities and furniture, 
St. Lawrence students had access to room service and the swimming pool reservations. “I learned how to swim and we went all the time,” says Plouffe. “We were able to reserve it for just our room so we didn’t have to worry about other people using it at the same time.”

While SLU students got a lot of the same perks as hotel guests, they still had a Community Assistant, door name tags, and a bulletin board to create as much of a dorm atmosphere as possible. Senior Associate Director of Residence Life Stacie Olney LaPierre worked with the University to create a space where students could still feel like they were living a normal college life. 

“Thankfully, the hotel was able to give us a cluster of rooms that’s separated by some fire doors from the general part of the hotel,” says LaPierre, who explains that the students had their own side entrance. “I think was a pretty nice setup and the fact that it was private minimized the possibility of running into a non-student.” 

For the residents of the Best Western, the fall 2020 semester was unlike any other, but despite being separated from campus, students were still able to live a relatively normal college lifestyle, with a few added perks. “Thanks, SLU for opening this option up,” says Plouffe. “I think it alleviated a lot of stress for a lot of people.”