NCCC foundation will buy Welcome Center site

SARANAC LAKE – The North Country Community College Foundation board decided Tuesday to buy the properties on which the school wants to build a Welcome Center.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization connected to the college to raise money to “maintain and enhance the quality educational experiences offered to students and the community,” according to its mission statement online.

The NCCC Board of Trustees passed a resolution later in the day supporting the foundation’s purchase of the property.

NCCC President Steve Tyrell explained after the board meeting that as a community college in New York, NCCC has three options for owning property: through a foundation, through a faculty-student association or in a joint ownership between the two counties that sponsor the college.

NCCC’s Ticonderoga and Malone campuses are owned by the foundation, its Saranac Lake residence halls are owned by the association, and its main campus is owned jointly by the counties. The last option is complicated and doesn’t have as much flexibility in terms of bidding and construction, so the foundation and the board decided the best choice is for the foundation to own the property, Tyrell said.

Tyrell said other options were considered, including letting Cedar Ridge Holdings, owned by village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, buy the property and construct the Welcome Center, then selling it to the college.

“We didn’t really know how that was going to play out in the beginning,” Tyrell told the Enterprise. “But we needed to spend the 120 days to have conversations with lot of folks about how we would pursue this, and we’ve come to this as our conclusion. The foundation and the board of trustees have both reached the same conclusion.”

Tyrell said he released the idea for the Welcome Center in June to get the conversation about it going, and the conversation has been robust.

When the board considered the resolution, Trustee Bob Tebo expressed concerns that the project has been presented to the public as one that belongs to Cedar Ridge Holdings, a company under contract to buy the two Lake Flower Avenue properties.

“My concern is the perception that Cedar Ridge Holdings has got control over this whole project from start to finish,” Tebo summarized after the meeting. “I’m not comfortable with that, and I just wanted to be sure that everybody that was in the room understands that once we purchase that property, we can have built whatever we want by whatever company we choose to have do that. I don’t want Cedar Ridge Holdings to think that because we bought the property from them, they have rights to the design and construction of it.”

He noted in the meeting that whatever construction happens will be put out to bid, not automatically awarded to Cedar Ridge. Trustee Barbara Dwyer noted that whatever happens should be done in a public manner.

Tyrell later said the college has been clear in all its contracts and discussions that Cedar Ridge has only presented options and that the college has no obligation to take the company up on those options.

The college board decided to pass a resolution supporting the land purchase after a nearly three-hour-long executive session. Tyrell said a number of topics were discussed in that closed session, since this is the biggest time of year for the college to do hires. But trustees made it clear that the Welcome Center was certainly a topic of discussion as well.

Trustee Mary Irene Lee said after the vote she wanted the public to know it wasn’t a decision made lightly, despite only brief discussion in the public session of the meeting.

“We’re not just flippant about voting,” Lee said. “There’s been a long executive session.”

Trustees Tom Michael and Melody Blackmore both voted against the resolution. Michael told the Enterprise after the meeting that he did so for two reasons. First, he hadn’t seen an appraisal on the property yet, “and without seeing a property appraisal, I couldn’t agree to a purchase.”

Second, he said a project would typically be permit-ready before closing on the related property.

“We hadn’t gotten to that stage yet, and I was uncomfortable closing until I knew you could actually build it.”

Cedar Ridge’s plans for the center are now being reviewed by the village planning board. The foundation’s 120-day option to buy the properties is about to expire at the end of the month, which has pushed the purchase forward, he said.

Despite concerns, Michael said he’s confident in the project.

“I believe the project is a good project for the college,” he said. “It’s going to help in our marketing, which is critical, because we have no visibility on the main thoroughfare through town, and we need that to bring students in. So I think it’s a good project; I think it’s in a good area. I just am uncomfortable with the stage we’re at right now.”

Michael asked after the vote to see at the board’s next meeting a request for price quotes on the project. He also suggested NCCC table the project application with the planning board.

Dwyer suggested the college let the project complete the planning board process and go back to them if things change, but Michael said that would require the college to go back to the beginning of the review process if there are significant changes.

Diana Fortune, the foundation’s director of development who represented the foundation at the board of trustees meeting, declined to discuss the property purchase until it has progressed further.