Better plan for NCCC Welcome Center

With reference to remarks made by village of Saranac Lake Trustee Allie Pelletieri, published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on July 13, who gave good reasons to oppose the proposed North Country Community College project …

And an Adirondack Daily Enterprise 600-word editorial of July 25 – “College should explore options for welcome center” …

Plus a letter to the editor from Joseph Blitt dated June 5, questioning a conflict of interest …

Also a Press-Republican article of Aug. 4, “Welcome Center questioned,” quotes from Franklin County Legislature Paul Maroun who said, in part, about a company owned by Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, “Will it go out to bid? … It doesn’t look good, it doesn’t sound right, and it doesn’t smell right. … There may be something wrong with it.”

I agree with these four pieces and would like to offer a better idea for a NCCC Welcome Center. The bottom line is the decisions should be narrowed down to using River Street Hall (a former grade school).

I would like to propose to the college that the Welcome Center be placed in your own River Street Hall property. It is a natural. It has location, parking, 10,000 square feet of space, three stories, historic charm and an appropriate look for a treasured former school obviously being recycled to continue good works efficiently, with fiscal consideration.

The building is in operation but needs some renovation, which perhaps could be done in the present budget. It requires NO variances, NO new zoning, NO need for a new road, NO loss of tax base, NO purchase of two homes to demolish to make another entrance to the college from an already crowded street.

The village board would be wise to reconsider this plan. It is not complete enough to be acted upon until more fundamental information and costs are provided.

The many advantages are obvious. It is an excellent, well-built building on a large lot with plenty of parking that is all paid for, which was a gift to the college.

It is a good, appropriate building, well located, built with brick on level land with high visibility from Lake Flower Avenue and has good access to the campus on three streets. Students could easily and safely walk or drive to the main buildings. It has a large parking lot, restrooms and much space.

Through the years, River Street Hall has served several purposes and has an additional building, formerly used for classrooms at the rear. There are three floors and a basement which could accommodate and continue its present other uses for children, etc.

This is a very substantial, dignified, three-story brick building with excellent views of Lake Flower and mountains.

Many improvements have been made, such as new, high-efficiency windows, heavy-duty electric power supply, a new standby generator, two vehicle entrances, a steel fire escape, three exits on the main floor, several sidewalks to the main campus, and it is relatively level.

It has a perfect location for high-visibility sign from Lake Flower Avenue at the corner of River Street.

The present site of the college has many disadvantages. One of the reasons this site was originally chosen was the hospital board gave it to the college – a political decision, controlled largely by the Essex County Board of Supervisors and the Franklin County Legislature. The location was the choice of our two local counties and by Mr. Jim Loeb, the then-owner of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

I am very familiar with the NCCC site, which was the former general hospital. My qualifications for making these statements are: I am now 94 years old and perhaps the only living original founder of NCCC still around. (Editor’s note regarding the term “founder”: Although Mr. Casier was not on the committee that succeeded in establishing NCCC, he says he was one of a group of people who tried to establish a college in Saranac Lake before that.) The main campus is built on top of an enormous, 7-acre rock with shallow soil and very steep hills on all sides – very difficult to work with. There is a 10-story difference in elevation between the library and athletes’ buildings. The steep, narrow Santanoni Avenue without sidewalks, a railroad and 40 objecting native citizens were enormous drawbacks.

Because the cost for this project will be paid for with taxpayer dollars, the cost should be a matter of public record and the project should go out to bid. Any party involved with influence on the approval level would have an obvious conflict of interest and not be qualified to bid on the project.

The public, Franklin County legislators, Essex County supervisors and the college board should be invited to drive over the proposed, tortuous route and up Santanoni Avenue to make their own judgment before a final decision is made.

Using the River Street Hall as a Welcome Center will satisfy virtually all the many questions and considerations that have been raised.

The bottom line is the decision should be narrowed down to use River Street Hall. Will all of the participants join together and get this good plan done?

It is past time for a whistle-blower in Saranac Lake.

P.S. I have extensive archives on the founding of NCCC which should be written as a local interest book. Anyone interested?

Frank Casier lives in Saranac Lake.