SARANAC LAKE - Local residents got the chance to weigh in on the future direction of North Country Community College at the first of three public forums Thursday on the college's strategic plan.
While upgrades to the college's main campus in Saranac Lake, which were recently derailed by Essex and Franklin counties, were a topic of discussion, there were plenty of other suggestions from the audience after NCCC President Carol Brown asked where the college should be headed.
"We really, sincerely want your input," she said. "We're here to listen, not to tell you."
North Country Community College President Carol Brown speaks to the audience at Thursday’s “community conversation” on the future direction of the college, which was held in the Saranac Lake Free Library’s Cantwell Community Room.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Several people said the college should be more of a resource for the community by hosting speakers, opening up its buildings for meetings and partnering with the community to host cultural events.
Some said the college should offer more life-long learning classes for adults, and more weekend and night classes. Others said the college should collaborate more with local high schools to prepare students for the transition to higher education, and prepare them for the area's current employment market.
Mary Hotaling said the college should rejuvenate its Adirondack Studies program, which she said has "evaporated." At one point, the college offered a guideboat-building class that was popular.
"It took something that was unique to this area and developed it, which was almost a lost art at the time," Hotaling said.
Diana Fortune said the college needs more of a "downtown" presence.
"If there were a physical presence like a bookstore or something, it would make people more aware that the college exists," she said.
Thursday's "community conversation," held in the Cantwell Community Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, was part of a strategic planning process that Brown said started in January with internal discussion among the college's faculty, staff and administration. That process has led to the identification of more than a half-dozen "strategic directions" for the college.
One part of that plan, providing the infrastructure and the environment to support student and staff success, suffered a setback last week when Essex and Franklin counties rejected the college's $65 million plan to renovate the Saranac Lake campus. The counties, which would have each paid for a quarter of the project, said the plan was too expensive given the state of the economy.
The topic was the elephant in the room during Thursday's meeting: Brown didn't bring it up, but several people in the audience said they were frustrated by the counties' decision.
"I just can't understand the reasoning of our representatives in both counties of not being behind what we're doing here," said Shirley Seney, a former North Elba supervisor. "We need to update our buildings. You walk down that hallway, and you think you're in a dungeon. It's a total embarrassment."
Brown was asked if the college has considered purchasing the Camp Gabriels prison, which shut down last year.
"It's come up," she said. "But the infrastructure isn't there for our technology needs, it needs a lot of work, and we'd still have to go back to the counties for the money."
NCCC may bring its renovation plan back to the counties next year. In the meantime, Brown said the college will look at other options to address its infrastructure needs, possibly by seeking grant funds from private foundations. Several people in the audience suggested the college reach out to its alumni for financial support.
"You can cry in your beer, or you can be creative," Brown said. "Right now we're going to have to be creative."
The college will host similar "community conversations" next week at its campuses in Ticonderoga and Malone.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.