Alongquin College in Ottawa has reopened to a select number of students.

Many trade programs require crucial hands-on training, sometimes using specialized equipment, before students can graduate. A pilot project with the college and the Ministry of Education is allowing a small number of students back on campus for that last bit of instruction.

At the Woodroffe campus, there are 18 welders who need just a few more hours to graduate. The Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence would normally be buzzing with the sounds of thousands of students.

Liam Percy is one of those students who returned Tuesday. In March, when classes were cancelled, he was able to finish the theory portion online, but without time welding, there was no way to pass. He’s excited to return to be able to get back to class.

"We only had 40 hours of in-lab time left," says Percy. "I feel really luck some of the other courses still have to finish their program but we got to go first."

He along with his classmates will graduate next week.

Across the campus, the automotive service technician program has started up as well. Mickayla Park along with eight others are finishing up year one.

"We started a few months back and then it got cut so now we’re just finishing our last seven weeks," says Park. "I’m really happy that we can finish this next level so we don’t have to wait a whole other year just to finish our last few classes."

The college does not have a specific timeline for when all trade programs will open.

Shaun Barr is the academic chair for construction, trades and building systems at Algonquin College. He says the jobs are out there and that he’s happy to get the students out in the work force. Barr has been working with faculty to ensure safe instruction during the pandemic.

"The students were so excited to get back and they wanted to get in there right away but we had to do some safety training ahead of time they had to do some safety training online before they could come back in."

Class sizes are broken up into smaller groups to ensure proper distancing and health guidelines.

Algonquin College President Claude Brulé tells CTV News at Noon says starting small allows the college the ability to assess its plan for the fall.

"It's important for us to ensure the safety and health of our employees and our students and we want to make sure that we are able to gradually ramp up," Brulé said. "Starting small allows us the flexibility to tweak and make sure everything works well from a procedure and protocol point of view."

Brulé said getting students back in class is an important step.

"People have been staying at home, working remotely for a long time," he said. "People are craving social contact and people really want to get back to business. We're reopening the economy […] and we want to make sure people have the skills to be able to contribute to that recovery."

Brulé says the programs they selected first are ones that will have an impact on the recovery.

If everything goes well, and there are no outbreaks of COVID-19 in July, Brulé said they will add more programs in August.

"The next step would be to increase the pilot in August in order for us to be well-positioned to open up more fully in September for the fall term."

Masks are mandatory on campus

The mandatory mask order for Ottawa, issued by Ottawa Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches on Monday, says schools are not considered "enclosed public spaces" for the purposes of requiring masks.

In a message to students and staff, Brulé said Algonquin College is working on its own mask policy but, in the meantime, masks would be mandatory on campus.

"In the interim, and effective immediately, all members of the College community (employees, students, contractors, visitors) at all campuses must wear a mask inside College buildings. For the time being, with the exception of personal offices, all internal spaces will be considered an 'enclosed public space'," Brulé said.

Security staff posted at the four entrances currently being used to access the Woodroffe campus will remind anyone entering about the mask policy. They will also have a limited number of disposable masks to hand out.

Brulé said similar measures are in place at the Perth and Pembroke campuses as well.