LEWISTON — Since its founding in 1855 as New England’s first co-educational college, Bates has gradually expanded.

With a single dormitory, a classroom building and a gymnasium, Bates took up a fraction of the space it occupies today. A scattering of farms and homes surrounded it.

Bates now has scores of buildings, playing fields and open space for its 1,800 students, including more than half a dozen major structures erected in the past two decades alone.

Just a few years ago, Campus Avenue served as an unofficial border between Bates College and several blocks of residential housing that stand between the campus and the city’s downtown.

Though the school owned many of the houses and lots closest to its campus — and used quite a few for purposes ranging from admission offices to health services — the area looked much like the rest of the city.

As Bates’ footprint grows, that’s changing.

[Related Coverage: Neighborhood expansion key to Bates College’s future]

Five years ago, the college announced it would build two new dorms on the southwest side of Campus Avenue between Central Avenue and Bardwell Street. By the fall semester of 2016, students lived in them.

The college said at the time of construction that it envisioned Campus Avenue “as a ‘porous’ border to campus, encouraging neighbors and the community to visit and use the campus.”

This winter, it grew more porous when the college declared it would add a new three-story science building next door to the new dorms, facing Campus Avenue between Bardwell and Nichols streets, a project Bates has eyed for years without a firm location. The new academic building is slated to open in 2021.

City Planner David Hediger said Friday the neighborhood within the college’s zoning designation will probably vanish someday as it becomes more and more simply another section of the campus.

Bates isn’t talking about its plans. Its employee handbook, though, says, “The primary purpose of the college’s acquisition and ownership of residences surrounding the campus is to provide space for future expansion of buildings, green space and other college needs.”

THE TAX IMPACT

Most of Bates’ residential rental property is taxed by the city, to the tune of more than $225,000 last year. Shifting any of that property to the tax-exempt list, however, because it was converted to educational purposes such as classrooms or dormitory, would have an impact on the city, officials said, though perhaps not a big one.

Lewiston Chief Assessor William Healey sad that “any time anybody becomes tax-exempt, it shifts the burden onto the other property owners” who have to pay.

But the impact of losing all of the property taxes Bates pays would make only a small difference overall. The college has $8 million worth of taxable property, a fraction of the $1.8 billion total for Lewiston as a whole.

“It’s not that much,” Healey said. But, he added, “it still hurts” to lose anything.

The college owns just shy of $120 million worth of tax-exempt property. It does pay the city’s so-called “rain tax,” a stormwater utility fee. City officials Friday weren’t able to provide a total tally of Bates’ annual rain tax payments, but it totals more than $70,000 annually for two of its many pieces of property.

Officials said that if Bates replaces homes with academic buildings, it would likely pay more in stormwater utility fees, which would make up for at least some of the lost tax revenue.

THE LONG-TERM VISION

Marjorie Hall, director of strategic communications for Bates, said that in the past decade, the college has put up a new dining commons, new residence hall for students and has carried out “critical building updates to our 163-year-old campus.”

She pointed out that long-term planning for facilities is essential to the college, but it is also “a fluid process subject to revision and refinement.”

“For instance, in 2017, the college launched a comprehensive fundraising campaign that includes plans for the building and renovation of new and modernized” science and technology facilities, Hall said.

Hall said that “as projects materialize, the college works closely with public officials and the community to share plans and developments.”

Sometimes, potential projects are mentioned years before being officially undertaken. Take, for example, a 2004 facilities plan that mentioned creation of a “major residential and student life complex on Campus Avenue” and the need for new science facilities. The complex is now finished; the science building is underway.

Among other phases mentioned in that plan was the “possible creation of a new quad in the Wood Street area.” A revised plan eight years later made it more clear what the school envisioned as a possible future for that area.

Renderings from 2012 by the Auburn-based Harriman design firm hired by Bates to update its master plan show a new field surrounded by dorms and academic buildings on the current residential block bordered by Campus Avenue, Nichols Street, Vale Street and College Street. In the preliminary design, much of Wood Street would be removed between Vale Street and Campus Avenue to create the new quad.

The plan shows new Bates buildings lining Campus Avenue all the way from the new dormitory complex to College Street — as well as some new structures along a portion of Bardwell Street. It also anticipates a number of new buildings within the generally recognized campus.

Hediger said college leaders showed the plan to city officials a few years ago to indicate what they might build down the road.

“They’ve had different master plans over the years,” Hediger said. He expects they’ll continue to change in the years ahead.

That Bates is weighing its options for development in the neighborhood next door is also evident from changes it sought to the city’s zoning rules.

Thirty years ago, the city designated the central campus, as well as Frye Street and the five blocks bounded by College Street, Campus Avenue, Central Avenue and Vale Street as an institutional office zone that allows the college to replace houses with dorms and academic buildings, subject to site approvals from the Planning Board.

The city’s new master plan would go a step further.

It calls for creation of a new “Bates Campus Special District” in recognition of the college’s specialized function and design.

The master plan says that Bates “requires a unique set of standards to accommodate large detached buildings, buildings that face onto internal greens, and other aspects seen in a campus environment.”

Buildings facing internal greens sounds quite a bit like the quad design eyed for the Wood Street area.

Hediger said the proposed master plan change would make it a little easier for new construction at Bates that would blend in with what’s already there. It would ease some restrictions, he said, but leave the city with the right to approve a particular project or not.

The one near-certain thing is that change is coming at and around the college. For as long as Bates has existed, it has eyed future growth.

Exactly what and where it will choose to expand is up in the air, but Bates is pressing ahead with its $300 million fundraising campaign and a commitment to remain one of the country’s strongest liberal arts colleges.

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