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Suffolk legislature approves funds to close project budget gap

A rendering of Suffolk County Community College's planned

A rendering of Suffolk County Community College's planned expo-sports-health complex on the eastern campus. Credit: Suffolk County Community College

The Suffolk legislature Tuesday night approved Suffolk Community College’s last-minute bid to get extra funding for a $20.9 million expo-sports and wellness complex on its East End campus after a lawmaker reversed his vote against the project.

Legis. Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) earlier Tuesday evening voted against the 40,214-square foot indoor pool, gymnasium, rock climbing wall, aerobic and strength facilities and classrooms after bids for the project came in $4 million over budget.

The project’s original cost was budgeted at $16.75 million but college officials said an improving economy has led to higher building costs. The county needed to approve funding its $2 million share of the extra costs before asking state lawmakers to match it.

The community college is prohibited from raising the extra $2 million from its reserve accounts or donations.

D’Amaro said he switched his vote when he learned that the county is responsible for coming up with the money.

With the county portion approved, college officials sent the resolution to state lawmakers Tuesday night so they can press to include the other $2 million in the state budget due April 1.

Earlier in the evening supporters fell one vote short of the 12-vote, two-thirds majority needed to approve the emergency resolution when D’Amaro and three Republican members voted against it.

“I was trying to get the college to go out and find another funding source,” D’Amaro said. “If that was not an option, that gave me pause to reconsider.”

He said he wasn’t lobbied in between votes.

“My phone was lighting up like a Christmas tree, but I don’t take those calls,” he said.

Ben Zwirn, the college’s lobbyist, said the college “was a victim of an improving economy,” where building costs statewide have risen 15 to 20 percent.

“When it’s all complete it’ll be something everyone can be proud of,” Zwirn said after the second vote passed.

Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), chairman of the higher education committee, said he was pleased with the vote.

“It has a happy ending,” LaValle said. “All the rancor and jumping up and down doesn’t mean a thing. All the state looks at is whether the county comes through with its commitment.”

LaValle said prospects for funding were good.

“On a scale of one to 10, I’d give it an eight.”

Opponents criticized the college’s faulty estimates and said the project was unneeded to fulfill its academic mission. “We’ve been getting along just fine and sometimes you just have to say no,” said Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), noting the campus had made do without a sports complex for 35 years. “We’re in the worst fiscal situation we’ve ever been in and we need a new pool?“


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