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JCC task force to dig deeper into multipurpose facility study


Jefferson Community College has assembled a small task force of economic development, municipal and nonprofit officials to work out the details behind a proposed multipurpose facility at the college.

The team, headed by Dean of Continuing Education Jill M. Pippin, was formed in September and has met twice thus far to identify tasks associated with the research.

The college unveiled in February a feasibility study outlining the risks and rewards associated with building a $44.5 million multipurpose facility on the site where the shuttered Whispering Pines nursing home stands on Coffeen Street.

The proposed facility would include a $12.3 million higher education center, a $7 million field house and a $25 million events center, according to a statement released by the college.

It is not clear whether the facility would be contained within a single building or a complex of buildings.

According to the feasibility study, the field house would likely have retractable perimeter seating and flexible rectangular floor that can accommodate a variety of court sport activities; the higher education center would have flexible instruction space for JCC credit and non-credit coursework, particularly in the health sciences area; and the events center could host ticketed events, trade shows, private business functions and large-scale banquet functions.

Among the members of the task force are Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency CEO Donald C. Alexander, Jefferson County Director of Planning Donald A. Canfield, Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Lynn M. Pietroski, Watertown City Manager Sharon A. Addison and Watertown Family Y Executive Director Peter W. Schmitt.

The task force has an extensive list of assignments to be completed before its findings are to be presented to a larger group of community stakeholders, according to an email from Mrs. Pippin.

“We’re just trying to flush out what was originally brought to the table. ... It’s really in its infancy stages, identifying where we need to dig deeper,” Mrs. Pietroski said.

The county has already conducted research on a similar project in a nearby county, however.

On Sept. 5, a delegation of county representatives took a field trip to Onondaga Community College. There, JCC President Carole A. McCoy, Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III, former Disabled Persons Action Organization Executive Director and CEO Joseph L. Rich, town of Watertown Supervisor Joel R. Bartlett, Watertown Family Y Branch Director Steve N. Rowell, Mr. Canfield and Mrs. Pietroski met with college officials to tour and learn about the SRC Arena, a 60,000-square-foot facility that was built recently on the OCC campus.

David W. Murphy, the senior vice president of College Affiliated Enterprises and Asset Management, was one of the OCC officials who met with the group.

Mr. Murphy was emphatic in his praise for the new arena, as well as for the renovation and expansion of an existing building and the installation of an athletic field at the college.

“It was a necessary complement for our campus. It has served our community very, very well and served our students very, very well and that’s what we’re here for, to serve those two constituencies,” Mr. Murphy said.

The arena and the building expansion cost between $24 million and $25 million, according to Mr. Murphy. The field added an estimated $3 million to the cost of the overall project.

The projects were paid for with state grants, county funds and $3 million that the college raised on its own, according to Mr. Murphy.

The arena opened in December 2011 and a YMCA branch at the facility opened shortly thereafter, about January or February of 2012, Mr. Murphy said.

Roughly two-thirds of the events hosted at the arena and associated facilities are college and high school events, Mr. Murphy said. The arena has a 6 lane indoor track on the bottom floor and three multiuse courts on the infield of the track.

The college does charge rent for the use of its facilities, though the rate varies according to the organization and the type of event, he said.

The proposal to build the facility was included in the college’s capital plan several years ago, Mr. Murphy said.

JCC is building a 90,000-square-foot residence hall on campus, which is being funded by the Faculty Student Association through issuance of up to $25 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds. The facility is projected to cost $17.5 million.

The Jefferson County Board of Legislators approved a resolution last week to spend up to $7 million in county funds on a $14 million plan to build a study center and to renovate the library at the college.

The resolution will be forwarded to the State University of New York Construction Fund in Albany for evaluation. If the state approves the project, the county probably would borrow the $7 million over a period to be determined, according to Mr. Hagemann.

The county typically structures debt over 15-year periods, he said.

Mr. Murphy attributed the trend in large capital projects at community colleges to the desire that students have to live the kind of campus life that traditionally have been a part of four-year residential colleges.

As the cost of higher education continues to rise, community colleges are increasingly seen as a viable alternative to four-year schools, Mr. Murphy said.

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