The Schenectady County Legislature unanimously voted Tuesday, Sept. 9, to lease a parcel of land located at 117 Washington Ave., where a student dormitory for Schenectady County Community College will be constructed.
Despite concerns from several community members about the building not meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards, the Legislature said seeking this type of certification would significantly delay the project, which they said is necessary for the continued success of the college.
Earlier this year, the Legislature adopted a resolution to build all county buildings more than 5,000 square feet to LEED standards. However, following a public hearing on the proposed construction, several legislators said the building would not be operated by the county and therefore does not need to meet LEED standards.
I commend Schenectady County for its recently adopted green agenda, which includes a commitment to seek LEED certification in new construction, said Patricia Rush, a member of the Schenectady County League of Woman Voters Environmental Committee. `I hope the county will follow its own policies with practice by using its considerable powers of persuasion to influence the construction practices of the new dormitory.`
`The fact that it is not LEED does not mean it isn’t a great building,` said Joseph Stellato, of Columbia Development Companies, which is building the dorm. He said the developers have taken measures to construct the building in an environmentally friendly manner. He said many of the materials used on the project are from local companies, cutting down on transportation of the goods. Stellato also said the building would contain recycled materials that would typically be deposited in a landfill.
`We need this housing now to stay competitive,` said Vladia Boniewski, director of development for the Schenectady County Community College Foundation. `We are not able to open a project of this nature in January.` She urged the Legislature to adopt the resolution to lease the parcel of land.
Following a public hearing on the $20 million project, Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, defended the project and developers saying, `This is not a county project. This cannot be a county project and be funded as it is.`
He continued, `The developers, the college and the foundation have made a sincere effort to be energy efficient with this building.`
Legislator Joseph Suhrada, R-Rotterdam, voted in favor of the project, but he said, `There is no half hazard standard when it comes to LEED.` He called the project `environmentally friendly,` but said it will not meet LEED certification and that no matter how one looks at the project, the Legislature is not upholding its commitment to construct LEED-certified buildings.
`To sit here and try to make excuses is something I will not do,` Suhrada, said.
Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, D- Schenectady, said, `I don’t think anyone was led down a primrose path,` in response to Suhrada’s comments.
He said the opportunities for the college’s growth far outweigh the consequences of not building to LEED standards.
DiCerbo said when the county takes over the building in 30 years, there could be a whole new set of environmental standards and LEED would mean very little.
Minority Leader Robert Farley, R-Glenville, said `We are turning a page in the history of our community college.`
He said while he has some reservations about the environmental impact of the building it is necessary to increase out of area students to the college.
`In order for programs to have national draw, we have to have student housing,` Farley said, acknowledging that the project is not perfect.
The county Legislature voted unanimously, Tuesday, Aug. 12, to create a local development corporation to handle the development of the 105,000-square-foot dormitory, which could house 313 students as early as September 2009. College officials said they hope to hold a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, Sept. 24.
Without a local development corporation, the dormitories would not be possible, as the state does not allow community colleges to take out loan funding for dormitories.
Initially the Legislature looked at funding the project through the Industrial Development Agency, but in January, the state put a halt on IDA funding for nonprofit projects.
While several legislators expressed reservations about the project, they said it is imperative that they act on the project now.
Creating a local development corporation is `the only realistic route` said DiCerbo, a graduate of SCCC.
Hughes said it is essential that the cost of the dorms be in line with what a community college student can afford. He said the cost of construction is a factor in building the dorm because the developer must be able to pay back bonds while providing affordable housing to students.
`This is a well-thought-out project,` Hughes said. `It is imperative that it move forward tonight.`
Farley said despite his reservations about the project, it is important that the county move forward with building the dormitory. He said preferably the county would not have to rely on another entity for financing, but after talking about building dorms for more than 10 years now is the time.
Suhrada is weary about the Legislature’s oversight of the corporation; `I would be keeping one eye open on the corporation.`
He said he would like to see more people on the corporation’s board that are not already involved in downtown development.
Legislators and college officials are positive the dormitories will help increase enrollment and attract more students from out of the area to the college, which offers unique programs in music, culinary arts and aviation.
`I know the housing will have an impact,` said SCCC President Gabriel Basil.
`Look at that [student housing] as an investment with a real return,` said Michael Karl, vice chair of the college Board of Trustees.“