The Residence Hall on the Central Oregon Community College campus.

In September, Central Oregon Community College plans to allow students to return to its residence hall, a year and a half after it was shuttered due to COVID-19.

COCC President Laurie Chesley said she made this decision partly because of Central Oregon’s successful vaccine rollout and shrinking COVID-19 numbers.

“We’re feeling hopeful that we’re now on the right track with our response to COVID,” she said. “I am really looking forward to a fall term that looks a whole lot more like the one we typically see.”

However, the reopening plan could change if the vaccine rollout has a hiccup, or COVID-19 doesn’t subside by the fall, Chesley said.

“If it appears that the situation’s worsening, we won’t reopen our residence hall,” she said. “We’re trying to be nimble if we need to be.”

COCC’s residence hall, located on its main campus in northwest Bend, has been closed since mid-March 2020, when educational institutions throughout Central Oregon moved to remote learning. In July, the college briefly planned to reopen the dorms at 50% capacity for the fall 2020 term, but decided against it a month later due to COVID-19 case counts not subsiding.

Chesley believes the state’s vaccine rollout will be successful through the planned Sept. 15 reopening date, and she’s confident in COCC’s ability to keep students safe with vigorous cleaning protocols and safety precautions.

“I believe we’ve learned a great deal over the past year about what the optimal safety conditions are, what works and what doesn’t,” Chesley said.

At full capacity, 320 students can live in COCC’s residence hall. The college hopes to fill all those spots in September, but that could change based on the area’s COVID-19 and vaccine situations, said Andrew Davis, COCC’s director of student life.

“We may adjust as we go, but for now, our hope is to be as fully occupied as we can be,” he said.

Many details of the reopening plan haven’t been hashed out yet — including whether or not to require vaccinations for students who live in the residence hall, or what COVID-19 testing for residents would look like, Chesley and Davis said. The college will make that decision closer to September, they said.

COCC also hopes to bring back many of its classes to in-person teaching in the fall, Chesley said. Right now, the vast majority of courses are done online, and that will still be an option for many classes, she said.

The college will lose about $2.6 million in room and board revenue from keeping the residence hall closed for a year and a half — $567,000 from the spring 2020 term, and an estimated $2.1 million from the 2020-21 school year, according to college spokesperson Jenn Kovitz.In contrast to COCC, Bend’s other higher education institution, Oregon State University-Cascades, has kept its residence hall open throughout the pandemic despite moving most classes to remote learning. This is because of a variety of reasons, said OSU-Cascades spokesperson Christine Coffin.OSU-Cascades used its Oregon State University connections to provide twice-a-week COVID-19 testing and sample wastewater for the coronavirus, Coffin said. And the university had a need to support its students who live outside the Bend area — 41% of OSU-Cascades students are from outside Central Oregon, she said. Meanwhile, 83% of COCC students taking credit courses are from the college’s vast district, which includes all three Central Oregon counties, far-north Klamath and Lake counties and the southern tip of Wasco County, Chesley said.

The COCC board will still get a chance to provide feedback on the reopening plan at its meeting on Feb. 10.

Oliver Tatom — the one COCC board member who voted against COCC’s initial dorm reopening plan in July 2020 — said he approves of reopening the residence hall by September 2021.

“I am more optimistic about what the fall is going to look like, in terms of COVID, than I have in a long time,” Tatom said. “There’s a very good possibility that with sufficient immunization rates, that we might be in a position to open safely.”

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