By Nina Culver FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW September 24, 2020

Like many businesses, the HUB Sports Center in Liberty Lake has been struggling to keep its doors open. With sports still limited, the organization has turned to offering school-related programs and drive-in movies to survive.

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown came right when the center, and other venues in Spokane, would normally have been hosting the middle school basketball championships and the Pacific Northwest qualifier in volleyball.

“The last three weekends of March are the busiest weekends for us,” executive director Phil Champlin said. “It was probably more than $30,000 in rental revenue. That’s just us. That doesn’t include restaurants and hotels.”

Everything at the HUB came to a grinding halt. The five basketball courts – also used for pickleball, volleyball and other sports – sat empty. The dance studios were silent. Champlin said he and his staff hoped it would only last a few weeks, but it lasted much longer.

Ten part-time employees were laid off and three full-time staff members, including Champlin, were kept on by using Paycheck Protection Plan money. Champlin also used the facility’s reserve fund and got a small business grant from Spokane County.  “Those have been helpful,” he said.

Spokane County entered Phase 2 on June 1 that included new fitness guidelines that allowed for groups of five with a coach.

The HUB opened its doors again, cutting basketball courts in half with walls of folded bleachers to allow for social distancing between each small group. The HUB created staggered start times so groups wouldn’t all be trying to enter the facility at the same time. Additional exits were put into use to cut down on congestion.

“It was nice having kids and noise back in the facility, but groups of five is not a sustainable business plan,” Champlin said. “You’re trying to figure out, when can we reopen and at what capacity can we reopen? We’re about bringing people together, and that’s the opposite of the guidelines.”

Once Spokane County entered Phase 2, Champlin figured Phase 3 wasn’t far behind, maybe in July.

“In Phase 3, we’d be able to operative within 80 to 90 percent of capacity,” he said.

But Phase 3 still hasn’t happened. Champlin said he was looking for other programs he could offer when schools started talking about reopening. He reached out to the three local school districts in the Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake area and asked them what they needed. The answer he got back was P.E. and hands-on STEM learning.

The HUB will offer STEM day camps for students in grades K-8 in the second and fourth weeks of each month beginning in October. The camps will be held Monday through Thursday and each day within the week will be the same, so parents can just pick one day that’s most convenient for them, Champlin said.

The cost will be $20 per student, and the facility can accommodate 40 students per day.

“Depending on the demand, we can look at adding more space,” he said.

An after-school program for students in grades K-8 began this week. It’s offered from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It includes study time and P.E., Champlin said. The cost is $70 per week or $20 per day and scholarships are available.

The HUB previously had a home-school P.E. program that is continuing and has expanded. It runs on the first and third Wednesday of each month from October to May. A special needs P.E. class is also available once a month for students ages 4-18. Offering P.E. classes fits perfectly with the HUB’s mission, Champlin said.

“We’re really concerned about the mental and emotional health of these kids,” he said. “There’s not many outlets. Activity and exercise have been shown to be a health benefit in all three areas – physical, mental and emotional.”

The facility is also hosting an Academic Support Program for the Central Valley School District. The study program is for CV students in grades K-8 from 8 a.m. to 3:30p.m. Monday through Friday. The program is for children of first responders and students who don’t have access to internet at home, Champlin said.

“That program is specific to Central Valley,” he said.

Children participating in camps and programs in the facility must wear masks. The masks can be removed if the student is actively participating in sports, Champlin said.

West Valley School District superintendent Kyle Rydell said Champlin and his team are innovators, and he’s happy to see programs that will benefit West Valley’s students.

“What I appreciate is their willingness to communicate with us,” Rydell said. “It’s filling a void. They’re just doing a great job out there.”

Rydell particularly likes the STEM program, which will provide hands-on learning. “We just want to continue to partner with them in the various activities they’ve gotten approval to run,” he said.

When he was considering other ways to continue to serve the community, Champlin settled on the idea of hosting drive-in movies. The north side overflow parking lot can accommodate 120 cars even with appropriate spacing.

“We have this 66,000-square-foot building with big walls,” he said. “It will be a very big screen.”

He’s even arranged for food trucks to be there on movie nights.

“You could make it a full night out,” he said.

During October, there will be two movies shown each Saturday night at 7 and 9:45. Upcoming films include “The Addams Family,” “Casper,” “Ghostbusters” and “Psycho.” Movies also will be shown on Oct. 3, 10, 17 and 24. The movie admission is $20 per car, and people must register in advance.

Registration for the drive-in movies, STEM camps, after-school program and other programs is available at