Suffolk County Community College officials have quietly asked the county to turn over 62 acres to substantially increase the size of their largest campus in Selden so it can develop a high-tech center just northeast of existing school grounds.
The college first approached Bellone administration officials and local legislators in the past six weeks about a possible transfer, which would increase the size of the 156-acre Selden campus by more than one-third.
The request for the county-owned land comes as the college plans to submit preliminary application to the state this week to take part in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's "Start-Up New York" program. That initiative is aimed at luring private high-tech start-ups by creating tax-free zones at local college campuses, which could also provide research and get potential training for students in cutting-edge fields.
"Right now, we're landlocked," said Shaun McKay, college president, noting the Selden campus is already overcrowded with 14,000 students and parking for only 5,000 cars. He said the college is also soliciting request for proposals to evaluate how to best use college facilities on all campuses.
The expansion would be the first major increase in the footprint of the three-campus commuter college in nearly four decades. The college first opened in 1960 in Selden in what once was a tuberculosis sanitarium. The 200-acre Brentwood campus was added in 1974 and the 200-acre eastern campus outside Riverhead opened three year years later. Today, SCCC, with 26,000 students, is the largest in the state's system of 36 community colleges.
Vanessa Baird Streeter, a spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said that the administration is looking to partner with both the community college and other colleges on the state program, but that it's premature to talk about land transfers. "The land is adjacent to the college so it makes sense, but it's too early to determine what structure [of the program] will be," she said.
Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the education committee chairwoman, also questioned whether the college would need the entire tract.
"I love the idea," said Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), who represents the area. "We need high-tech industry and what better place than next to the college." He said he will work with college officials to vet the idea with the community and address any concerns.
In the past, officials have debated various uses for the county-owned parcel, including a nine-hole golf course and using 6.6 acres for the Long Island headquarters of Empire State College. William Lindsay, the late presiding officer, even proposed budgeting $4 million to sell the land for development during the county fiscal crunch, a move local residents opposed.
"What we have in Selden and Centereach is a lot of big box stores with low-paying jobs," said Debbie Felber, Selden Civic Association president. "If we get something more high-tech and brings better paid employees, who can live in our community, that's something we could live with."