Three Bates College freshman spend one last day together in Portland in this March 2020 file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Bates College will welcome students back to its Lewiston campus this fall.

Even as the college’s nearly 1,800 students prepare to return for the first time since the campus closed in March, they will find a changed academic environment as the Bates administration works to mitigate the risk of a coronavirus outbreak.

“[T]he question we face is not whether we can open Bates in person, but how we can do so safely, by adopting policies and practices proven to mitigate the risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19,” Bates College President Clayton Spencer said in a Tuesday statement.

Bates will ask all returning students to maintain physical distance, wear face coverings, practice good hygiene and participate in testing and contact tracing. Additionally, Bates will be switching to a new format for the upcoming academic year, having students take two courses at a time over two 7.5 week periods each semester. Some classes will have online components for those students unable to return to campus.

“Based on exhaustive consultation and planning, we are confident that we can make it safe to do [return to campus], assuming that we have broad commitment across the campus community,” Spencer said.

Spencer cautioned Tuesday that the reopening plan could change depending on the course of the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 3,200 Mainers and left more than 100 dead.

The fall semester begins Sept. 2 and ends Dec. 7. Students will be sent home before Thanksgiving and will finish the remaining week of classes and final exams remotely. The winter semester begins Jan. 12, 2021, and ends April 21, 2021.

Bates’ announcement follows the decision at Bowdoin College to limit the number of students who return to its Brunswick campus this fall. Only first-year and transfer students, those unable to attend online classes, senior honors students who need access to campus for approved projects and student residential life staff will return to Bowdoin’s campus this fall. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will take their courses remotely, but may return to campus next spring as first-year and transfer students continue classes remotely.

Spencer acknowledged Tuesday that Bates’ reopening will come with “fundamental changes” to campus life.

“These are very challenging times, but they also provide an opportunity for openness and creativity as standard ways of doing things fall by the wayside,” Spencer said.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled Clayton Spencer’s first name.