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North Country Community College debuts master plan draft

March 8, 2019
By JESSE ADCOCK - For the News ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Capital project plans mapping out the next 10 years for North Country Community College's Saranac Lake campus were presented Thursday, Feb. 28.

Prepared by JMZ Architects and Planners since last summer, the plan outlines stand-alone and sequential projects to improve the campus.

"The leadership of the college set clear goals for this master plan," said JMZ President Tenee R. Casaccio, "rooted in that new reality, doing more with less, finding ways to better use the facilities that are already here."

There are two options for the plan. Option 1's total cost is $31,824,000. Option 2's total cost is $36,092,000.

Option 1 would repurpose the pool in the Sparks Athletic Complex at NCCC. Option 2 would keep the pool, and build an addition onto the complex.

"We know that that has been a bit of a hot potato in the community, and a study was just completed by a pool specialist. We're not here today to debate whether the pool should be retained or repurposed," Casaccio said, "Knowing that we're going to present both options, the college and the community need the information to make the decision."

The college would not ask Essex and Franklin counties for $32 or $36 million dollars. The state provides 50 cents on the dollar for capital improvement projects.

"You ask the two counties combined to contribute half of that," said NCCC Communications Director Chris Knight. "Let's say it's the 31-million-dollar option. So the two counties, we would ask for 15 million, so 7-and-a-half million from each."

The plan has several goals: reduce costs, stabilize enrollment and rearrange classrooms and facilities into their most locations to reflect use by a reduced student body. Additionally, many of the projects address deferred maintenance - buildings that have not been improved in their 40-year lifespans.

In the past six years, enrollment has declined at NCCC, Casaccio said, reflecting trends in smaller graduating classes in the area, less college enrollment nationwide and the effect of the Excelsior Scholarship.

"The Excelsior Scholarship has had a negative impact on community college enrollment in the SUNY system," Casaccio said. "Students that might have otherwise chosen to come to North Country Community College are saying, 'hmm, if all things are equal, I can get help to go to a four-year institution at very little to no cost.' So we're seeing that impact all of your peer institutions."

According to data Casaccio presented, there are around 437 full-time equivalent students at NCCC's Saranac Lake Campus this year, compared to 953 in the 2011-2012 academic year.

"The master plan is a series of logical, practical and modest, extremely modest steps to reorganize the campus for greater efficiency to improve the environment for students, which helps to hopefully recruit and retain them."

The counties would not have to distribute millions of dollars all at one time, Casaccio said. These projects will be staggered for completion over the next decade.

"The capital that you have to expend at the beginning is largely for investigation and design," Casaccio said. "It could be several years down the line before you're looking at some of the larger ticket items for some of the projects."


Science lab upgrades

In March 2018, NCCC received a $1.1 million grant from the state Dormitory Authority to upgrade its science labs and fitness center.

"Those could happen right away. They're somewhat independent of the other master plan recommendations," Casaccio said.

In the first major renovation since the labs were built in 1978, science equipment would be replaced with modern instruments, heating and ventilation systems There would also be window replacements and interior remodeling.

The total cost of the project is $1.65 million. Half, or all, of the DA grant might be applied toward the project.


Repurposing the pool

Repurposing the pool would allow the college to build a new main entrance that would face the parking lot at the Sparks Athletic Complex. New windows would be added. Where the pool is now, there would be a fitness room and a group exercise room. Currently, the complex has two locker rooms. These would be replaced and expanded upon into seven new locker rooms with their own showers.

"Having dedicated locker spaces for athletics allows us to actually bring in more students to the institution. It's an enrollment strategy to have more locker rooms," NCCC President Steve Tyrell said. "Without having that currently, we've been unable to expand our athletic offerings."

He added that they have not been able to add men's lacrosse because they just cannot accommodate seasonal athletic space for the teams.

A second floor would be built, housing a multipurpose room, restrooms, offices and a small classroom.

"We believe that massage therapy could be accommodated in this space," Casaccio said.

The cost of this option would be $8.4 million. The $1.1 million DA grant could be applied in half or whole towards the project.

"This represents about a third of the master plan cost," Casaccio said.


Keeping the pool

Keep the pool is estimated to cost $4.1 million more, at $12.1 million. The DA grant could be applied. This is because an addition would have to be added to the complex to add needed facilities and office space, Casaccio said. Additionally, if the pool is to be kept, a wall in the facility needs to be repaired. The locker rooms would still be upgraded but left at two.

"All of the improvements that would be necessary to the pool would still need to happen," Casaccio said. "Including some structural repairs."


Hodson Hall

The first of the sequential projects is to relocate admissions and financial aid from College Hall to Hodson Hall. College Hall would then be reverted back to the county, saving the college $61,000 in deferred maintenance on the building. The college bookstore would be moved from the Science Building to Hodson Hall, into a combined study and cafe space.

"The building gets reorganized, renovated to include true one-stop student services," Casaccio said. "We think that all of this would go a long way to improving the first impression to the Saranac Lake campus."

The total cost for this project is $4.9 million, and 25 percent of that cost is deferred maintenance. It also includes renovation without reconfiguration on the second floor. The outside of Hodson Hall would receive accessibility upgrades.


Lecture Hall, Science Building and Connector

With the bookstore now relocated, the nursing program would move out of Clermont Hall and into the Science Building. A new 40-seat classroom would be constructed. The large tiered lecture hall currently in the building would be leveled with the rest of the building and turned into a six-bed nursing skills lab, a two-bed simulation lab and a nursing workstation.

"It gives us a way to make a fresh classroom on campus that is sized appropriately for experiential learning, where furnishings are large and movable," Casaccio said.

The total cost of this project is $4.8 million.


Clermont Hall

If nursing moved out of Clermont Hall, "the plan is to move the arts and potentially campus rec to this building, and to make space for new programs," Casaccio said. "We could potentially demo the pottery studio."

Renovations to the building would enclose an outdoor space, create a shared workroom where offices are currently, and make a 2,600-square-foot addition, "that might create sort of a lounge, commons area ... some faculty offices ... and then space for program expansion," Casaccio said.

This would make room for trades programs if NCCC decided to go that route, Casaccio said.

"Or maybe something that you're adding in arts that you need specific space for, perhaps graphic design or another type of dedicated space," Casaccio said.

The total cost of this project is about $3 million.


Library Renovation

The main thrust of the library renovation would include more computers, more group study space and fewer books.

"I'm on a different campus every week," Casaccio said. "They all say they just can't seem to get enough group study rooms."

The windows would be expanded to capitalize on mountain vistas, the library offices would be moved and new bathrooms would be constructed.

Tutoring would be moved into the building. A 2,600-square-foot addition, called the Adirondack Reading Room, would be added. Casaccio said it could serve multiple functions for the college, for faculty or community meetings.

"We're conscious of this because when you take away the tiered lecture hall, we still want to make a space that's large enough for the entire faculty to come together."

The total project cost is $3.6 million.


Classroom building

With tutoring moved into the library, the space it occupied could be turned into a project-based learning classroom with 34 seats.

A classroom or a shared faculty office with eight work stations could be created. A study space could be added.

"These little nooks and crannies, the campus is lacking those, places where students can sit and have impromptu discussions," Casaccio said.

The windows and hallways would be renovated to allow more light into the building. The art space, which has by this point been moved to Clement Hall, would be become the Rad Tech classroom and staff offices.

The total cost of that project is $3.4 million and around 25 percent of that is in deferred maintenance.


Site improvements

This is not one project, but a collection of many that would address pedestrian safety and accessibility on campus.

A portion of the stairs leading to the library would be covered. In spots where pedestrians crossroads, the pavement will be raised and flattened to indicate to drivers that those are high foot traffic areas.

There would be campuswide lighting upgrades and new plantings. This project would also include improvements to NCCC's athletic fields, such as converting them to turf.

"You have such a short playing season here," Casaccio said. "And we're definitely seeing a trend. Many community colleges in the SUNY system have gone to artificial turf to extend their playing season."

LED lights would also be added to allow night play. Tiered seating would be added.

"Those improvements to the athletic fields represent $1.7 million out of the $3.2 million project cost," Casaccio said.


Next steps

"We're really in the home stretch," Casaccio said. "These are more or less final recommendations."

Casaccio said she'd take input that the community gave during the presentation and present it to the college administration. She said in the next two weeks (from Feb. 28), college officials will be evaluating the plans. If they agree that it looks reflective of the college's needs for the next decade, then it will be finalized and issued to the college as a draft for review. Then that would go to the Board of Trustees for adoption, Casaccio said.

"A master plan is meant to set a road map but to be a flexible document and to give you wiggle room. These are not final designs and it's quite often, when a campus goes to implement their projects, and they get into detailed discussions with end users, things get refined and get adjusted."



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