May 27, 2011
Residents raise concerns over new college building
Student life center would have big impact
SUNY Cortland’s proposed student life center brought questions and concerns Thursday from about 20 local residents, in a hearing with college officials and representatives from the State University of New York Construction Fund.
The concerns were mostly about adding to the flooding problems in the area, affecting the aquifer and worsening the disruption of the nearby residential neighborhood.
The meeting was at Park Center’s Hall of Fame Room.
The new building, to be constructed on the old Chugger Davis athletic field, would be about 100,000 square feet at its base with a second story of about 48,000 square feet.
The student life center would include a gym, an indoor track, a pool, a climbing wall, other cardio equipment and food services.
Bob Kanarkiewicz, the Construction Fund’s assistant director of design, said the site appears to be the best location and that’s where it will be located unless there are significant factors uncovered that the engineers did not consider.
“It’s never a done deal until it’s done,” Kanarkiewicz said, adding that the questions from residents will be brought to the engineers on the project. “Our goal is to have the right information so we can make the right decision.”
The location was chosen out of six identified as possible sites on the campus based upon the ease of access to the site by pedestrians, proximity to parking or public transit, how it fit within the campus and neighborhood, among other factors, Kanarkiewicz said.
Many of the residents questioned why the building would be put so close to their neighborhood, an established neighborhood of single-family residences.
“This may be the right building, but it’s in the wrong place,” city Planning Commission Vice-Chair Jo Schaffer said. “It’s the wrong place for the building — period.”
Schaffer has been outspoken about the college’s ability to construct a new building without local approval.
The neighborhood that is “peninsulated” by the college would be subjected to additional noise, air and light pollution from the building, Schaffer said.
“We have been good neighbors,” she said. “We’re looking for the college to be good neighbors in return.”
Kanarkiewicz said any of the possible sites would affect a nearby neighborhood.
“We look at what we’re trying to achieve on campus, and having the building closer to the student population will make it more successful ... than in a more remote area,” Kanarkiewicz said.
“There is a maximum impact and a minimum impact, and this is the maximum impact,” County Legislator Ray Parker (D-2nd Ward) said.
Resident Robert Rhodes, a former professor at the college, questioned whether putting the building in a neighborhood where it was not wanted by residents would affect the college.
“How do you feel about the ill will amongst residents that would be generated by building that building in that place,” Rhodes said. “To have the right to do it doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
Many of the residents also raised concern about the building’s proximity to the city’s aquifer, which is its sole source of drinking water.
“Can the state assure this community ... that our water source will not be impacted?” Schaffer asked.
Kanarkiewicz said there was no way to fully guarantee no risks, but the engineers would put a system in place that would have the least amount of risk.
He pointed out it is definitely not in the college’s best interest to spoil the water, since it is the same water that the college uses.
Clay Benedict, a former city alderman, said there has been a lot of flooding in the area, and wanted to make sure something was done to prevent it from getting worse.
Kanarkiewicz said the new building would have a stormwater pollution plan that would address runoff during and after construction.
The college put out a notification stating it was looking to become the lead agency to perform the state-mandated environmental review of the project.
The deadline for other entities to apply to become the lead agency is June 9.
City Corporation Counsel Patrick Perfetti said the city is in no position to compete for the lead agency position.
If the construction fund does become the lead agency and performs environmental assessment, bidding for the project would likely go forward over the winter and construction would begin in the spring of 2012.
Schaffer said more residents attended an October 2009 meeting about the buildings’ location, and said the invitations for the meeting had arrived Thursday morning.
There will be another meeting at City Hall at 7 p.m. June 2.
The college said it would send representatives to hear the residents’ concerns, but Kanarkiewicz said he would not be able to attend.
The meetings to hear the residents’ concerns is not mandatory for the college or the construction fund.
Kanarkiewicz said questions or concerns can also be sent to Peggie McSorley, State University Construction Fund, 353 Broadway, Albany, NY 12246.
He said any letters should be sent as soon as possible.
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