Tourism

NCCC Welcome Center in planning

By: KIM SMITH DEDAM

SARANAC LAKE — Plans for a Welcome Center at North Country Community College are churning through the planning phase.

The NCCC Foundation Board recently passed a resolution approving the purchase of two pieces of property from development firm Cedar Ridge Holdings, owned by Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau.

The college’s Board of Trustees then approved a similar plan to buy the property.

WILL BE BID OUT

But in looking to buy, both boards said they would put construction of the Welcome Center project out for bid.

Initially, when announcing the idea last June, NCCC President Dr. Steve Tyrell said they were considering purchase of the Welcome Center after it was completely built by Cedar Ridge, a turnkey arrangement.

The idea drew fire from lawmakers in both Franklin and Essex counties, who thought the project should be put out to bid, especially if state or county resources are involved.

“All that we were doing over the summer was exploring all of our options,” Tyrell said.

“At the conclusion of the foundation meeting this month — and we had a similar conversation at the Board of Trustees meeting — there was agreement from both entities that we would bid the construction of the facility.”

FUNDING SOURCES

No price for the property was announced despite the move to go ahead.

But Tyrell said the entire Welcome Center project would range in cost from $850,000 to $1.3 million, depending on what types of funding supply the capital.

Money would likely come from a blend of private donations from the foundation and state dollars, he said.

“The foundation would be the owners of the properties. Cedar Ridge Holdings has been developing them. There are two properties, three residential buildings,” Tyrell said of the site, which would be purchased from Rabideau’s company.

The cost of construction, he explained, depends on how the project is funded.

“If it is solely a SUNY construction-fund project, it does increase our cost.

Materials don’t usually drop in price. But we have a lot of state regulations, well-intended to protect the public good, though processes to monitor those regulations are not always cost-effective.”

Blending state resources with private donor funding would provide a different measure of cost control, he said.

BROADENS MASTER PLAN

The Welcome Center is not part of the existing NCCC Master Capital Plan developed over the past five or six years. The campus-wide renovation/restoration program is in somewhat of a holding pattern, due to fiscal constraints.

“The addition of a Welcome Center broadens and actually improves the Master Plan,” Tyrell said.

“At some point in time, some aspects of the Master Plan may be implemented, but the funding on both the state and federal level has shifted since the plan was developed.”

So far, the design has been through several rounds of meetings with the Village of Saranac Lake Planning Board.

At the last session, a motion to approve was left undecided.

Asked about the planning approval holdup, Rabideau declined comment, deferring to his client, NCCC.

“We don’t comment on our client’s behalf,” he said.

Saranac Lake Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said a measure of caution stems from how the project fits on the site proposed.

He does not speak for the Planning Board, but he is coordinating the newly adopted Comprehensive Plan for the village.

“The project overlaps two different zones: B4 and C2,” Evans said. “B4 is primarily commercial; C2 is primarily residential.

“So this does mean it (Welcome Center proposal) is also in two different areas of the Comprehensive Plan. The board is evaluating how the project does and doesn’t fit for those plan areas.”

ON SEPT. 18 AGENDA

Evans said that at the last Planning Board session, a motion put on the table to approve the project, with certain conditions, never moved to a vote.

“It means that the Welcome Center didn’t get approved as it was presented. But it wasn’t disapproved, either. It will be back on the agenda for the next meeting on Sept. 18. It has come down to concerns about how and whether the project fits on the site proposed.”

The site sits along Lake Flower Avenue — between the Sara-Placid Motel and Janie’s for Hair salon —  with commercial enterprises running along the roadside and residential areas behind it. The college is on the hill behind that.

The Welcome Center project would include a road connecting the new building to the main campus. The facility would house the Registrar, Bursar, Admissions and Financial Aid offices.

“The building and parking are all within the commercial district,” Evans said. “The road and part of the parcel that connects to it are zoned residential.

“Generally, the concerns stem from how the project connects with the neighborhood and its compatibility with the neighborhood.”

CHANGES POSSIBLE

Tyrell said strategic planning on the site has been ongoing for about two months.

“At this past meeting, they discussed what their concerns were. We needed clarification on what those concerns meant. We’re working on getting that information now.

“It may mean we have to consider some changes to our proposal.”

The college president said the board has asked for a number of changes throughout the process, and some have been addressed.

“With others, we need further clarification.”

DESIGN

Board members expressed some concern that the building design, as proposed, with an Adirondack-type theme, does not blend with elements of the college’s historic Hodson Hall, Tyrell said.

“We love Hodson Hall,” he said. “We hope to have the funding someday to restore Hodson Hall, though it is not our intention to carry the Hodson Hall theme through the campus.

“We want it to stand alone as an iconic building. Many colleges are built around a core iconic building.”

For now, the Welcome Center is still very much a work in progress.

There is no exacting timeline for the purchase, Tyrell said.

“Depending on the funding source, it could take anywhere between one to two years to have it open.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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