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State budget will decide St. Lawrence County SUNY college construction projects

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The upcoming state budget will include long-awaited funds for SUNY construction projects and determine the status of several major endeavors at St. Lawrence County’s state colleges.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s original budget proposal suggested $500 million for college capital projects, which would be shared among all SUNY schools. The Assembly’s proposal raised this to more than $1.1 billion, while the Senate’s proposal calls for about $1.7 billion.

However, none of these budgets includes what SUNY schools really want: a spending plan that maps out the next five years instead of just the year ahead.

The SUNY capital budget is separate from the day-to-day operating budget of state schools. It is used to fund new construction and major improvements.

In the past, the state would establish a five-year budget for these projects, although the money usually was stretched to last six years instead of five.

This allows colleges to plan major, expensive projects and spread the cost out over several years, confident they will receive the money they need to complete them.

However, with the pot of money from six years ago running out, the state likely will opt to plan only for the year ahead in an effort to keep costs down.

“I certainly support a five-year capital plan, so the colleges can have a vision that includes looking more than one year out, but the issue is with the debt ceiling,” said state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.

Over the next few weeks, lawmakers will haggle over the various budget proposals before adopting the state’s 2014-15 budget, which is due April 1.

“This is the beginning. The next two weeks will be some intense discussion and negotiation,” said state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome.

The amount of money SUNY receives will decide which projects can be launched this year at St. Lawrence County’s SUNY colleges.

SUNY Canton hopes to improve the Chaney Dining Center and Southworth Library, along with renovating many of its aging facilities, such as Dana Hall, to be more energy efficient. The scheduled projects will take more than $30 million to complete.

The college also has long-term improvement plans. Plans call for converting French Hall, the college’s admissions building, into a “welcome building” to create a good first impression on visitors, and building an addition to academic building Payson Hall.

SUNY Potsdam plans to begin two major projects. The college wants to build a $6 million addition to the Crane School of Music to create room for two new rehearsal areas for ensembles, as well as a $6 million child care center on Main Street.

“There’s no guarantee that we’re going to get those, but we’re very hopeful that we will,” SUNY Potsdam interim President Dennis C. Hefner said.

According to Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, Gov. Cuomo’s proposed $500 million was not enough to cover schools’ major needs.

“The governor really set the tone in this area. We felt that we really needed to go much farther, and really provide at least one year,” she said. “Obviously if we could get the governor to commit to a five-year program, that is what I would prefer.”

Mr. Hefner said he hopes the one-year budget is a stopgap, and lawmakers return to long-term planning next year.

“I don’t think this is necessarily going against having a five-year plan,” he said.

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