Schenectady County Community College officials expect to break ground later this month on a $20 million dormitory for 313 students next to the campus. The building is expected to open in time for classes in September 2009.
The college needs student housing to remain competitive, officials said. The massive 105,000-square-foot, five-story building will help SCCC increase enrollment, help provide additional college revenues and help spur further development along lower State Street, county officials said.
Schenectady County legislators plan to set the project in motion by creating a local development corporation at their meeting Aug. 12. They discussed the proposal in committee Monday night.
Once established, the LDC will issue tax-exempt bonds to the developers, Columbia Development Companies and BBL Construction Services. The college itself is prohibited from building or contracting for housing, so its foundation is running the project.
Before January, the Schenectady County Industrial Development Authority would have issued the bonds. But state law changed then, preventing IDAs from issuing them to nonprofits. Hence the need for the LDC.
“We are standing on the edge and ready to move forward. We need the LDC,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority. Metroplex is working with the developers on the dormitory project.
“This is a major project for Schenectady. It is in a good location and it will jump start development on lower State Street at no cost to the county,” Gillen said.
Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee and an SCCC trustee, said, “Student housing is integral. We have some programs that have potential to attract students from out of the area and the state.”
The county owns the land at 117 Washington Ave. on which the dormitory will be built and the building will revert to county ownership once the bonds are paid off. The county will have no liability over the bonds and the bond issuance will affect the county’s bond debt ceiling, said Schenectady County Finance Commissioner George Davidson.
Officials said the college foundation and a private bank are backing the bonds.
Hughes said easily accessible and affordable student housing would attract students to the college’s flagship programs in culinary arts, aviation and music.
Student housing could also help reduce the amount of money the county spends in chargebacks, Hughes said.
Through chargebacks, students can attend and pay in-district tuition at a community college outside their home district if they are pursuing a certificate or degree. Chargebacks are available only when the home community college does not offer the certificate or degree program.
Hughes said the county, which is responsible for the cost, is spending $2.3 million on tuition paid to other counties in chargebacks this year.
“The logical strategy is to increase the amount the money to our own college by enticing our own residents seeking community college education to remain and to entice other students to come here,” Hughes said.
Hughes offered no guarantees the county would pass any chargeback savings to the college. “I would suggest the savings would go to the college. And I would prefer that it not go to the county,” he said. “We will have more wide ranging discussion on this.”
The college struggled financially for several years and has used its surplus to close annual revenue gaps. This year, college trustees asked the county to boost its annual sponsorship contribution by $120,000.
The county Legislature responded with an $80,000 increase, bringing its annual contribution to approximately $2 million. Legislators will vote on the proposal next week.
Davidson said the college can no longer afford to tap its surplus each year. At the current rate, the fund balance would disappear in two years. It will contain $1.3 million next year.
Hughes is suggesting the college undertake a marketing survey to determine why residents go elsewhere for their education and what SCCC could do to make itself more attractive.
“This is my idea, but I am one voice. We can look at what the gaps are and whether we doing everything we can to offer education in areas directly connected to job growth in area, such as green power and renewable energy,” Hughes said.
The housing project is tied into a strategy by the land-locked college to expand into Washington Avenue area. The area contains the former Armory and several parking lots. The college hopes to use the armory for its sports program, add additional structures there and connect the section to the main campus by a bridge.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals will review the student housing project on Wednesday. The college is seeking two variances. One would allow the building to have 18 parking spaces where 78 are required. The other would allow the building’s primary entrance to be located not facing Washington Avenue.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in Room 110 of City Hall.