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Watertown Trust contributes $10,000 for JCC multi-purpose facility study

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The Watertown Local Development Corp. unanimously agreed Thursday morning to contribute $10,000 to a feasibility study for a proposed 7,000-seat multi-purpose facility on the campus of Jefferson Community College on Coffeen Street.

Before voting for the contribution, members of the WLDC, also known as the Watertown Trust, discussed the prospects of getting the facility built on the site of the Jefferson County Home for the Aged — also known as Whispering Pines — and whether it would be a viable venue for the region.

The WLDC board decided that the $40,000 study should be completed for the Jefferson Community College Foundation by consulting firm Paradigm Economics of Buffalo, despite some initial reservations by Watertown Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham.

“To come on a Thursday morning, this kind of came out of the blue,” he told Daniel J. Villa, chairman of the JCC board of trustees, who is seeking funding from local sources for the study.

Mr. Graham wondered whether other uses could be found for the Whispering Pines site, since it is a prime piece of real estate close to Interstate 81. He suggested Jefferson County, the nursing home’s owner and college’s sponsor, should look at selling the land.

Mr. Graham also noted that the city is working on possibly making significant improvements at its municipal ice arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds that could fulfill some of the proposed facility’s needs.

But Trust CEO Donald W. Rutherford and board members David J. Zembiec, Donald C. Alexander and Mark S. Bellinger all expressed their support for the feasibility study and the proposed project.

Noting the need for a multi-purpose arena of that size, Mr. Alexander said that others have proposed similar facilities in the past but, with the college’s involvement, it now can happen.

Mr. Villa already has a $10,000 commitment from the JCC Foundation. The Northern New York Community Foundation is also considering helping to fund the study. The county Legislature will vote on the remaining $10,000 at its June 5 meeting.

The nursing home — slated to close next year when Samaritan Senior Village off Washington Street opens — would be demolished to make room for the facility. County officials have indicated they want the land to be used by the college in some way, Mr. Villa said.

No cost estimates for the project have been determined. But the State University of New York could provide 50 percent of the funding in college building aid, said Mr. Villa, who began developing the plan with local leaders last fall. The college also might seek funding through a new initiative by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state university system, called SUNY 2020, which would provide $20 million to three state colleges for projects that would stimulate economic development and job creation, he said.

While detailed plans haven’t been developed, Mr. Villa said the proposed facility would be large enough to accommodate crowds of up to 7,000 people. Tentative plans include a full-size ice rink that can be converted to a basketball court, a conference room for dinners and special events with seating for more than 500 people and 35,000 square feet of classrooms to be used by JCC.

The facility would be built to fill the college’s master plan, which already calls for the construction of a 35,000-square-foot “higher education” and learning center, Mr. Villa said.

The study would take 75 to 90 days, Mr. Villa said. The JCC Foundation, working as the lead agency, would then start looking at ways to fund the project. Mr. Villa said he believes it could be completed by late 2015 or early 2016.

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