LEWISTON — All returning Bates College students received an email from school officials almost two weeks before the school year was set to begin. 

The message, sent to all sophomores, juniors and seniors on Thursday, Aug. 24, was meant as a reminder to students living off-campus to be respectful of their neighbors. It’s in response to rising complaints last year about unreasonable noise and disruption, and the email asks students to keep the ongoing discussions in mind as a new school year starts. 

“With the new academic year upon us, we write to ask your help in resetting the relationship between our off-campus houses and our neighbors,” the letter states. It was penned by Carl Steidel, senior associate dean of students, and Paul Menice, interim director of security and campus safety. 

Since this spring, the issue has resulted in numerous discussions among neighbors and officials from the city, its police department and Bates College security. The Police Department has amended policies and the City Council is weighing potential ordinance changes that could affect parking and where “lodging houses” that accommodate students are permitted. 

Steidel and Menice say the college expects students living off-campus to act respectfully, and the letter reminded students of its policies and student conduct system. 

“Unfortunately, in the past, not all students have met these expectations, causing late-night disturbances for our neighbors and other quality-of-life concerns, such as finding trash or vomit in their yard the day after a party at a student-leased residence,” the message said. “Last year, a heightened level of discontent was expressed by some members of the community about the behavior of some of our students.” 

The letter also goes on to give students fair warning that the Police Department may react to disturbances differently than it has in the past. 

“The Chief of Police delivered a clear message that students should expect a more visible presence of officers in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus,” the letter said. “Students living off campus should also expect additional follow-up from officers should issues arise from events at their residence.” 

During meetings this year, questions have swirled over what authority Bates security has when responding to a party or parking infractions. 

In the past, residents were advised to call campus security whenever they had complaints about parties. Police will now invite those residents to call them directly. The department will give out required warnings for disorderly behavior on the first visit, but, if they have to go back, arrests could be made. 

“If we can avoid that, I’d be all for it,” Police Chief Brian O’Malley said during a meeting in July. 

Police officials are also planning to meet with students and student groups before the coming school year to let them know that police are serious about maintaining order at the college. The city will also attempt to keep better records of which properties are a recurring problem. 

In the message to students, officials said the college will also concentrate on expanding late-night or weekend events, hoping that more social opportunities and 21-plus events could cut down on off-campus parties. 

Asked Monday about the reaction to the email, Steidel said he hadn’t received any responses from returning students.

“Students just might not be plugging into Bates news until they get back,” he said.

While freshmen orientation occurred Monday, classes for the fall semester don’t begin until Wednesday, Sept. 6. 

Each year, at the start of the fall semester, the college hosts a meeting with all students living off-campus. Sean Findlen, chief communications officer for Bates College, said two sessions are scheduled to meet with students next week.

Findlen added in an email, “As always, Bates continues to work closely with city officials to address these concerns.” 

At a previous City Council meeting on Aug. 15, Geoffrey Swift, Bates College vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, told the council that the letter would be distributed to each student living off-campus.

Mayor Bob Macdonald said the city requested the letter be sent.

Swift said the number of students living off-campus will be roughly 130 this year, down from a high of 180 this past year. He acknowledged the issues in the neighborhood were “thorny,” and said the college knows “doing nothing is not an option.” 

Prior to a moratorium that was passed in February, and re-upped in July, landlords took advantage of the city’s lodging house ordinance, which allowed a number of students to live in one home if landlords met higher code standards. The moratorium prevents any new buildings to gain the license, but a number of buildings already are leased to students. 

Maura Murphy, a White Street resident who has been one of the most vocal neighbors about the party activity, said Monday that the street was still largely quiet — some students have moved in, but the activity will likely increase as the week continues. 

She’s hoping that the note sent to returning students, as well as the recent publicity surrounding the issue, will help as the new school year begins. 

“We’ll wait and see,” she said. 

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Lewiston police officer Charlie Weaver talks to Bates College neighbors and city and school officials during a meeting in July. Last week, Bates College officials sent a letter to returning students informing them of discussions that took place during the summer following complaints about off-campus parties, parking and overall disruption.

Lewiston police officer Charlie Weaver talks to Bates College neighbors and city and school officials during a meeting in July. Last week, Bates College officials sent a letter to returning students informing them of discussions that took place during the summer following complaints about off-campus parties, parking and overall disruption.

 – A copy of the letter sent to Bates College students can be viewed here

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