ELIZABETHTOWN - One Essex County supervisor is questioning North Country Community College's plans to build a welcome center in Saranac Lake.
Willsboro town Supervisor Ed Hatch told his colleagues Monday at a meeting of the county's Ways and Means Community that he's concerned that the college plans to buy buildings and open a welcome center.
"I don't think that's the intent of community college," Hatch said. "College's communities are set up to be in a radius of 30 miles so people can get further education, and I think this is not in the interest of, the best interest or the intent of what community colleges are for."
The college plans to construct the building on Lake Flower Avenue in partnership with Cedar Ridge Holdings, a real estate development company owned by Saranac Lake village Mayor Clyde Rabideau. Cedar Ridge is under contract to buy the properties, build the two-story, 4,200-square-foot structure and sell it to the college, which is tax-exempt.
NCCC President Steve Tyrell, who was present at the meeting, told the News after the discussion that he disagrees.
"For over a decade, community colleges and other colleges have developed welcome centers for recruiting our students to our college," Tyrell said. "Nothing new there, we're just one of the last groups to do so. You'll find it all over higher education."
He explained that the welcome center would perform two functions. First, it would help recruit students by giving a good first impression of the campus and encouraging potential students to visit, which would help enrollment.
It would also act as a one-stop-shop for current students, delivering all their administrative services in one place, which Tyrell said would make the institution more efficient. That would help keep students at NCCC.
Tyrell said he had a hard time hearing Hatch's comments, but he said he's not sure if there's a clear understanding of the plan for the center.
"It's not a welcome center for Saranac Lake, it's a welcome center for North Country Community College," Tyrell said.
Hatch brought his concerns up as the Ways and Means Committee approved the college's 2013-14 budget.
Total spending in the budget is about $14.6 million. Essex County's share would be $1.19 million, with $1.14 million going to operating expenses and $50,000 going to capital projects. Essex and Franklin counties both sponsor the college, which has campuses in Saranac Lake, Malone and Ticonderoga.
The full board still needs to approve the budget and the county's share of it at its regular meeting next week.
Hatch was the only supervisor to vote against the budget.
"I voted no against it a number of times and I'll continue to vote no, because I don't think we can afford it," Hatch said.
He also questioned why the college's appropriation is approved at a different time than the rest of the county's spending.
"I don't understand why this is not done during budget period," Hatch said. "I mean, I can hear the same rhetoric that's going to happen in November: We're going to have to cut back, cut back in all departments, and yet, here these people are already set in our budget with not being part of the cutbacks."
Tyrell disagreed with that point, saying that community colleges are necessary in today's economy.
"The question is not that we cannot afford community colleges," Tyrell told the News. "We cannot not afford to have community colleges today. They are the best opportunity, the best price for the value of education that people can get today, sometimes the only way that people have access into higher education because of cost and quality."
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or jcollier