Katie Filiakova, a junior at Bowdoin College, shows off the living room at the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern room that is serving as her “dorm.” Courtesy / Katie Filiakova

BRUNSWICK — The coronavirus pandemic has prompted officials at Bowdoin College to employ a creative solution of spreading students out at a local hotel.

According to the college’s website, COVID test results from Aug. 17, 2020, to Jan. 10, 2021, show that five students and eight employees have tested positive and that all have since recovered.

The college is using a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning and has given each student living on campus their own room, according to Matt Orlando, senior vice president for finance and administration and the college’s treasurer.

“We’ve never had to de-densify campus to the degree that we’re doing this year,” he said.

Orlando said the school decided to invite first-year students only to stay on campus for the fall semester, along with any other students who could not do remote learning due to technical logistics “and other challenges.”

“Reliable Wi-Fi at home is an issue,” he said.

According to Bowdoin’s website, 1,777 students were enrolled for the fall semester, and another six were studying abroad. Figures for spring 2021 enrollment were not available.

The college has about 1,264 dorm rooms on campus, but Orlando said many rooms have more than one bed, and right now the college does not want to risk having more than one student per room.

There was enough room for the 638 students who came in the fall, Orlando said, but for the spring semester that starts Feb. 8, about 1,030 students will be in dorms, made up of upperclassmen along with other students who cannot take classes remotely. To handle the overflow, Orlando said, the college has booked 51 rooms at the Brunswick Hotel and Tavern. This will allow for extra space on campus for quarantine and isolation, if necessary, Orlando said.

The college is handling the logistics of paying for the rooms, Orlando said, with the cost to students being no greater than what they would pay for staying in traditional on-campus housing.

Deborah King, executive director of the Brunswick Downtown Association, said given the loss of tourism due to the pandemic, having students staying at local hotels has been welcome.

“We’re very, very pleased that they’re utilizing some of the businesses that are experiencing a downturn due to COVID,” she said.

King said it’s not just good for local hotels; the students patronize other businesses in the area, such as restaurants.

“They’re a huge economic benefit to the downtown,” she said.

Tony Sachs, the owner of Big Top Deli, said he normally gets a lot of business from the college’s students, faculty and staff. When the pandemic hit, Sachs said he was concerned that students would remain off campus a lot longer. Even when he heard students were coming back to on-campus housing, he wasn’t sure how many of them would venture off campus to his deli.

“I noticed every bit of it because I didn’t expect to see any of it,” he said.

Like other eateries, Sachs said he had to make some changes. He doesn’t allow eating at any of the 48 tables, operating as a take-out business only for now. It’s been hard, he said, but having students among his customer base again has certainly helped.

“We were really pleasantly surprised at how much business we got from students,” he said.

Right now, the college is nearing the end of its winter break.

Junior Katie Filiakova said she couldn’t go home to her native Russia, so she has spent it at the Brunswick Hotel, along with 14 other students. She has stayed on campus before and will be returning to campus during the move-in days on Feb. 5 and 6 for the spring. Overall, she said, she has enjoyed the experience, but she has noticed the differences.

“The big thing is definitely your own bathroom,” she said.

Filiakova also noted that campus dorms don’t come with their own televisions, but she isn’t allowed to hang posters on the walls like she would in a dorm. She said she is comfortable, but she never forgets she is not on campus.

“It’s definitely not the ‘vibe’ of the dorm,” she said.

Filiakova is looking forward to returning to campus, if only so she can see more of her friends. She said the school has done a good job making her feel safe and, despite pandemic concerns, she said she is determined not to be afraid to go outside.

“Going outside is essential for your mental health,” she said.

Comments are not available on this story.