Planning board OKs revised college Welcome Center

SARANAC LAKE – After weeks of wrestling over North Country Community College’s proposed Welcome Center, the village planning board finally got a design it could live with.

In a unanimous vote Wednesday night, the board approved a revised design for the project, proposed by the college and Cedar Ridge Holdings, the real estate development company owned by village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. The decision came roughly two weeks after a majority of the board rejected a prior plan for the Welcome Center, saying it had been shoehorned into a largely residential area and didn’t meet the guidelines of the village land-use code and comprehensive plans.

The revised design was presented Wednesday night by NCCC President Steve Tyrell. Neither Rabideau or Susan Rdzanek, who has represented Cedar Ridge at prior meetings, was there.

“We’ve put together a new site plan tonight that we hope represents first the needs of the college, what we’d like to accomplish with this project, as well as reflect the conversations with the planning board and address some of the concerns you have,” Tyrell said.

At 4,600 square feet, the new version of the two-story Welcome Center is slightly bigger than the 4,200-square-foot building that was first proposed. It’s also narrower and longer, now measuring 32 feet wide by 72 feet long.

The color scheme of the building has also changed. The prior plan called for dark brown siding and a green roof. The new design has white and brown siding, a green roof and other architectural features that NCCC President Steve Tyrell said were drawn from Hodson Hall, the former hospital that is the school’s oldest building.

“This has a modern feel, and we can carry this architectural theme throughout the rest of the campus, and we’re excited about that,” he said.

The biggest change in the revised plan is the location of the building on the site, which has been a key issue for the board. Cedar Ridge and the college wanted to locate the structure at the back of one of the two lots Rabideau is under contract to buy, and put a 13-space parking lot in front of it. Board members wanted the building moved to the front of the property, with its parking lot behind it, so it would fit in better with other buildings on Lake Flower Avenue.

The design presented Wednesday does that, positioning the Welcome Center sideways in the front of the lot along Lake Flower Avenue with a 21-space parking lot behind it. A two-lane road is still planned across the property, connecting Lake Flower Avenue to Santanoni Avenue.

The Welcome Center would house the college’s financial aid, admissions, registration and bursar’s offices. To address pedestrian safety concerns, Tyrell said he met with village Manager John Sweeney last week to discuss installing a sidewalk along a 500-foot stretch of Santanoni Avenue between the Welcome Center and the college’s campus. The initial plan is for the village to do the preparation work for the sidewalk while the college would pay for its construction, estimated at roughly $35,000.

Overall, planning board members welcomed the changes to the project, though several said they were disappointed that it took so long to see these kinds of revisions.

“Though late in coming and perhaps a bit painful for everybody, I think the college’s and the applicant’s responsiveness to the sentiments that were raised here were significant and important, and I appreciate it,” said board chairwoman Leslie Karasin.

“I feel this addresses a lot of the land-use issues that I originally had with it and how it fits in the neighborhood,” said board member Scott Stoddard.

Board member Molly Hann said she’s struggled with the question of whether there will be enough of a buffer between the neighborhood and the commercial buildings along Lake Flower Avenue, “but I think we’ve come a long way toward approving this project.

“I think this is a much better fit architecturally and visually, and I really appreciate that we’ve finally gotten to this,” Hann said.

Still, board members said they had some concerns, particularly the increase in pavement to accommodate more parking. Stoddard suggested the college consider using pervious paver stones like those at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Tyrell said that’s something the college has started to explore on the campus and would continue to investigate.

Stoddard also said he wasn’t comfortable with a proposed driveway that would connect the back of the Janie’s For Hair property to the road that cuts through the Welcome Center parcel. He said it would bring unnecessary traffic into the neighborhood.

Board member Patricia Hilling questioned whether the Santanoni Avenue sidewalk would be needed since more parking is now proposed.

“And I do agree it’s a lot of pavement, but at least it’s behind the building and not in front of it,” she said.

The board ultimately added several conditions to its approval, including stipulations that require removal of the driveway behind Janie’s and the use of pervious paver stones for the parking lot. If that proves to not be feasible, the college can come back to the planning board and request a change.

While this ends the planning board’s review, Tyrell said the project’s timetable is still up in the air. The college foundation has agreed to buy the properties from Cedar Ridge, but how the roughly $1 million project will be funded has yet to be determined. Tyrell said it could be paid for through private or public money, or a combination of both.

Once the purchase is complete, Tyrell said an architect and engineer would be brought in to finalize the design. Construction of the building may not happen for another one to two years, he said. College officials have said they would put the project out to bid, not just give the contract to Rabideau’s company.

Rabideau posted a picture of the revised design of the building on his Facebook page earlier this week under a post titled, “The Process Works – The NCCC Welcome Center in Saranac Lake.” He wrote that the project would provide a convenient one-stop shop for student services, serve as an attractive “first impression” and marketing tool and help stabilize the college’s presence in Saranac Lake.

“Regardless if I am personally involved or not – and I have and will take heat for being involved – this project must happen for a solid Saranac Lake future,” Rabideau wrote.

Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or