College should explore options for Welcome Center

Is the location of North Country Community College’s Welcome Center the best for visibility, access and safety? While we support a Welcome Center very much, there are other alternatives that might be considered.

The main entrance to the college now runs right through Winona Avenue, a residential area. (Full disclosure: Enterprise Publisher Catherine Moore lives on Winona.) Neighbors might be concerned with traffic entering at the other side, where the proposed Welcome Center would be. Would there be students speeding through the neighborhood? Dave and Helen Munn’s young daughter was hit and killed on Winona Avenue when the college first opened. This tragic accident spurred safety concerns, resulting in a caution light being erected to slow down reckless drivers. This was a legitimate concern back then.

Now, however, the drinking age is higher, and so is the average age of NCCC students. Also many students are local and under the careful watch of their parents. With responsible drivers going to and from the college today, neighbors notice no substantial disturbance.

There is, however, a legitimate safety concern if the Welcome Center on Lake Flower Avenue was accompanied by, as proposed, a new road that would cut through to Santanoni Avenue, heading up to the college. The reason for the concern is not traffic but the steepness of the Santanoni Avenue hill when entering the college from that direction. Neighbors and college regulars generally know to go one way on that slope in winter. It could cause cars to slide back down, possibly into students walking up the hill, especially due to another reason for concern – that street has no sidewalks.

The Welcome Center’s visibility at the proposed location might not be all that welcoming when tucked between a row of businesses; the village planning board already raised this question. Have other, more visible locations been considered, perhaps closer to the existing entrance? Possible options might be the former Children’s Corner building for sale on River Street at Lake Flower Avenue, or a different use of the former River Street School/Hall next-door. Either of these locations couldn’t be missed to any outsider coming into town.

The college hasn’t yet limited its options by signing a contract with village Mayor Clyde Rabideau’s Cedar Ridge Holdings company, but it has let Cedar Ridge run with the project by itself instead of putting it out for competitive bidding. This is questionable legally, since public projects are supposed to be put out to competitive bidding so the taxpayers get the best deal and so corruption can be avoided.

We have looked into this situation and see no corruption, but we do see problems. Mr. Rabideau pitched the idea for the Welcome Center to the college years ago, and now the college is ready to act on it – that’s all good. What would have been better, though, would have been for the college to seek bids to build it. Mr. Rabideau, having had plenty of time to develop a plan, may well have won the contract, but having to compete for it would have been better for the public and better for the college, since its officials could have more options and maybe hear some new ideas they hadn’t considered before.

North Country Community College deserves a prominent entrance like Paul Smith’s College or the new entrance of Northwood School to welcome new students. Maybe that site is the one Mr. Rabideau proposes, and maybe not. Let’s hope the college, contractors and village officials can figure out together what’s best to benefit the students, community and future growth.