SARANAC LAKE - North Country Community College plans to look into whether it should offer more student housing.
Tom Michael, a member of the college's Board of Trustees, said college officials have been in touch with an organization that does housing construction for colleges throughout New York and the Northeast. At Tuesday's board meeting, he said NCCC may have an opportunity to look at building more campus housing.
College President Carol Brown told the Enterprise that trustees support the idea and that the "logical path to follow is one that begins with a study.
Mary Chiappone, left, and Emily Pike are students at North Country Community College. They say the campus could use more housing but that living off campus has its perks.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"We are certainly aware of firms that have worked with our sister colleges," she said. "We have some firms that we could reach out to for the study."
Brown said a feasibility study would explore the pros and cons of additional student housing, as well as costs and other factors. She said it's too soon to say how much such a study would cost.
Michael said students look for the college experience as much as they look for the education.
"And sometimes they need the experience to get the education," he added.
NCCC currently has 96 units of on-campus housing located near the Sparks Athletic Complex. That housing is sponsored by the North Country Community College Association, an organization that built the dormitories back when community colleges couldn't have dorms themselves. Each student gets a furnished private bedroom that is part of a suite of four. Each suite has a kitchen area and its own bathroom.
Michael said the college doesn't want to create a deficit situation for NCCC Association.
"But at the same time we want to make sure that we're not missing students," he added.
Brown said the existing units were full in the fall semester but are not quite maxed out in the current semester.
Michael said the college needs to look at the number of beds it provides, the style of the housing it provides and the management of its housing.
"And if we are not maximizing our opportunity, or maximizing the ability for a student (to get housing), then we're going to lose that student," he said. "And they may seek to go off campus, or they may not like the current structure of our current housing, so they may seek other alternatives. We need to know that. As a college we need to understand what's motivating our customer."
Bobbie Karp, director of campus and student life at NCCC, said residence halls "offer a community that is directly connected to campus." She said she loves the idea of a feasibility study and welcomes any opportunity to enhance housing and the student experience.
Karp said campus housing provides students with immediate access to food services and other amenities. But she noted the college stresses the importance of its relationship with the greater community and said a study of campus housing should also involve local landlords.
Jacob Stanbro, manager of Nonna Fina restaurant in Saranac Lake, is one of many local landlords who rent to NCCC students. He owns an apartment building on Pine Street and currently rents to four students.
Stanbro said if the college hopes to increase its enrollment by adding more housing, "then by all means, do it," but he added that he relies on that rent to pay for his property. He said he thinks those students help strengthen the Saranac Lake community by spending money downtown and building relationships with local people.
"Kids are kids; everyone makes a little mistake here and there," Stanbro said. "My experience renting to them has been good; I've always received my rent."
Stanbro goes out of his way to accommodate students, who Karp said are often "cash poor." Stanbro waits for his tenants to receive financial aid refund checks, which often means he doesn't collect rent for months at a time.
Mary Chiappone received her associate degree from NCCC and is currently taking general education classes to work toward her bachelor's degree. She lives off campus and rents from a local landlord.
Chiappone lived in the dorms her first year. She said it has its pros and cons.
"It's nice to have everyone there, and it's just a short walk to campus," Chiappone said. "But it's kind of difficult when you try to get stuff done and people are noisy."
Chiappone also works in the college's enrollment and financial aid office and gives tours to prospective students. She said most of those individuals want to see the campus housing and have an interest in the on-campus living experience.
Emily Pike is in her second year at NCCC and studies business administration. She is a resident assistant and said most of the students she knows enjoy living on campus, and that there's a need for more housing.
"A lot of people are scared to live on their own for their first year," Pike said. "And it can be easier to meet people when you live in the dorms."
Pike and Chiappone both said they believe the college's connection to the community is strong and that additional on-campus housing wouldn't take away from that.