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Build a college in Hamilton County

Saturday, March 22, 2014 - Updated: 8:08 PM

What if there were a college, even just a two-year college, in Hamilton County?

This may sound absurd, but it was a possibility in 1990. What happened in 1990 was what didn't happen in 1990. To understand, look back to the mid-1980s.

Between 1982 and 1985 and, despite the restrictions in the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan, sales of subdivided property tripled, and doubled again by 1988. This rapid growth (mostly of vacation homes), increased the price of real estate, encouraged the break-up of large land-holdings and the development of sensitive lakeshore areas, and threatened the region's distinctive open space and water quality.

This was the fear of many local environmental groups. In January of 1989, Gov. Mario Cuomo responded to these fears by establishing a Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century to examine problems growing out of the 1980s boom in Adirondack real estate.

The Commission was to report to the governor April 1, 1990. In the first months of that year the nation slid into a recession, and real estate values in the Northeast were particularly hard hit.

Release of the Commission's report was delayed through April and into May. Rumors of its contents surfaced in the press, and one commissioner, Robert Flack, sparked anxiety and anger among Adirondack Park residents by publishing a minority report emphasizing a handful of the report's most restrictive recommendations.

The release of the Commission's report May 5 was anti-climatic. People had made up their minds from the newspaper stories; few would take the time to actually read the report.

In May of 1992, the 100th Anniversary of the creation of the Adirondack Park, Cuomo proposed legislation based on the report. He recommended increased protection of undeveloped lakeshore and tax incentives to help preserve the backcountry.

He also included proposals to bolster the chronically depressed Adirondack economy and to make changes in the state's administration of the park. The Legislature, split between a Democratic Assembly and a Republican Senate, failed to agree on any of the proposals.

Such was and continues to be the nature of politics in New York state and the nation.

THE BABY THROWN OUT TOO

Two people who seldom agree about anything concerning the Adirondack Park do agree many things in the Commission's report would have been advantageous to those who opposed it.

Recent separate conversations with former Adirondack Park Agency Chairman John Collins and Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman William Farber saw them agreeing that while much of what local residents and governments objected to has come to pass, while little of what just about everyone would not have found objectionable has not materialized.

The main item local governments and many residents feared, and has been realized, is the growth in acreage owned by the state. In 1989, the state-owned forest preserve lands totaled about 2.3 million acres. Today, that figure stands at about 2.6 million acres and shows no signs of stopping.

A GAME CHANGER

So what was the baby thrown out back in 1992? A state college in Hamilton County.

The final report included the following recommendations.

"67. - An Agricultural and Technical College of the State University of New York should be established within the Park with a view to assuming the role of North Country Community College in order to provide the needed dormitories that are denied community colleges, to enrich the curricula beyond the means now available, and to more effectively support the work of the local schools and a parkwide BOCES.

"68. - the state should support creation of a college program focusing on the history, culture and economic resources of the Park, with emphasis on businesses compatible with the Park, such as forest management, tourism, Adirondack crafts, furniture making, etc. Such a program might be patterned after that conducted by Berea College in Kentucky."

Although the Commission's report did not specifically mention Hamilton County, John Sheehan of The Adirondack Council and Collins recollect talk at the time was suggesting the new college should be built in Hamilton County because it is the only county in the Adirondacks not directly serviced by either a two- or four-year college.

Students graduating high school in Hamilton County have no choice but to leave the county if they seek higher education. Even while in high school their school districts are pulled north, south, east and west if they want to take BOCES classes from one of the four BOCES districts with which local school districts are affiliated.

One might be forgiven for thinking Hamilton County, its residents and especially its students are the forgotten when it comes to the state educational system. This is now especially true while the local schools are under the gun when it comes to properly funding education.

The current situation would be a whole lot better if a college had been built and was now up and running.

A college in Hamilton County, either in Indian Lake or Lake Pleasant (the most likely locations), would spur growth beyond anything one can now hope for. If it had been built in Indian Lake, Indian Lake would still have a full service grocery store and quite possibly a drug store.

No matter where it was built, the town it was built in and towns nearby would see the construction of hotels and motels to accommodate parents visiting their children. Housing would be built for teachers and staff. Because of the inevitable growth of year-round residents working at the college, enrollment in local school districts would grow. The tax base would grow.

Then was then and now is now, and now might be the time to initiate a new Adirondack Challenge to Albany legislators. Build a college in Hamilton County.

Maybe they would even send some of their children to college here, to experience the beauty of what they have so successfully preserved for future generations.

--PETE KLEIN

Express News Staff

     

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