SARANAC LAKE — Plans to upgrade North Country Community College's campus remain in flux.NCCC attorney James Brooks introduced a presentation on campus options Wednesday with one caveat.While many in the public believe the college would operate from either its current campus in the Village of Saranac Lake or from a new one at the former Biotech building six miles away in the Town of North Elba, "it could be both," he said.Engineers from Bernier Carr and Associates studied each facility in February and gave cost-comparison data in a 90-minute presentation Wednesday.Nearly all Franklin and Essex county legislators and supervisors attended the meeting.The bottom line — including contingency escalation and "soft costs," such as architects and construction management — estimated Saranac Lake upgrades at $62 million versus purchase of the Biotech building and renovations at $52 million.The study, however, did not estimate how much it would cost to upgrade and use both sites.The Saranac Lake campus alone requires a projected $32 million in new additions, including a parking garage.The Biotech site alone would require $28 million in new additions.On a scale of 1 (poor) to 10 (excellent), existing buildings in Saranac Lake rated from 1 to 6.The Biotech site rated an 8.
Bernier Carr engineers considered the Biotech facility "a natural fit" for educational use.And NCCC trustees have already negotiated purchase options.Brooks said the Biotech building is "under agreement" with the Board of Trustees "at a rather favorable price," which "is confidential at this time."Brooks then told county lawmakers the deadline to buy the Biotech building at the current price is April 18."This is a decision that two counties have to make," he said.Supervisors and legislators were surprised by the time frame."I think we're pushing this too hard," said Essex County Supervisor Randy Douglas (D-Jay). "I don't like making decisions in two weeks.""I can guarantee you I will not be making a decision by the 18th," said Franklin County Legislator Paul Maroun (R-Tupper Lake).Supervisor Dan Connell (D-Westport) asked how the trustees thought they could make a decision by April 18."Everything has been fast-tracked," Brooks said. "We have been trying to get that time line extended."Some lawmakers want to see further cost analysis done before they decide to buy anything.Supervisor Joyce Morency (R-St. Armand) asked if trustees had a "handle on costs to taxpayers" for any aspect of the study.Tom Finch, NCCC development officer, said, "We would have to take a look at that."Tax numbers, Brooks said, "would require a hard decision on whether you have one campus or two."Supervisor George Canon (R-Newcomb) said he would like to see what a combined campus would cost.Supervisor Bob Dedrick (R-Ticonderoga) asked for details of campus renovations that include a Biotech building annex."Those are not in the presentation. Figures show either/or as options. I don't even see (annexation) as an option," Dedrick said.
The estimated price of renovations has gone up since December, when trustees put the total budget between $30 and $40 million.But, according to the study presented Wednesday, the actual estimate landed somewhere between $50 million and $60 million.SUNY will pay half of the total capital project.Finch said each county would likely have to borrow $15 million.In an interview after the meeting, Douglas said that Essex County Treasurer Michael Diskin ran a tax review of debt service and found each county would likely pay close to $1 million per year for the bond in addition to $1 million in annual support for NCCC operations."Not counting increased enrollment," Douglas said.
Lawmakers also asked the trustees what part of the process would include public input."We're not having a public debate here," Brooks said. "Right now, we're dealing with two sponsors (Essex and Franklin counties)."After the presentation, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Noel Merrihew said the onus would be on NCCC trustees to provide a forum for public comment.At a trustees meeting held after, Brooks said they would set another meeting date with county officials once further information is available."We will have public hearings," Brooks added. "We will talk about this until everybody has had an opportunity to discuss it."Trustees decided not to go into executive session, as they had planned, to vote on whether to pursue buying the Biotech building."There is no need to go into executive session," Brooks said, "because we're going to wait for more information from (Bernier Carr.)"About a dozen interested residents attended Wednesday's presentation but were dissuaded from asking any questions.