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County approves $2M for SCCC fitness center in Northampton

The Suffolk County Legislature has approved spending $2 million for the long-awaited fitness center at Suffolk County Community College’s Northampton campus.

The project is expected to receive the remaining $2 million from New York State, which missed its April 1 budget deadline.

Last Tuesday, the state Legislature approved a budget extender bill that expires May 31. While that bill doesn’t include funding for the fitness center, it’s possible the money may still be included in the final budget, state Sen. Ken LaValle’s spokesperson Greg Blower said. Joanne Scalia, an aide to Mr. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), described the project as a “priority” for the senator.

SCCC spokesperson Drew Biondo said if the state doesn’t approve the funding this year, the college will have to start the planning process for the fitness center all over again.

The project received just barely enough votes to move forward at last Tuesday’s county Legislature meeting.

Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), whose jurisdiction includes the college campus, stressed the importance of supporting the project, which includes an Olympic-size indoor swimming pool.

“I can confirm the need,” she said, adding that there is only one small indoor pool on the East End, located at the YMCA in East Hampton.

As a bonding resolution, the funding required 12 votes to pass. Following a lengthy debate, it received only 11 favorable votes from lawmakers.

Just before the close of the meeting, however, Legislator Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon), who had opposed the resolution, said he’d changed his mind and requested a revote. The funding was then approved by a 12-6 vote.

John DeMaio, administrative director of facilities for the college, told the county Legislature last Tuesday that the project’s size had been reduced by 7,000 square feet and the rock-climbing wall had been removed from the plan.

In addition to the pool, the proposed 40,000-square-foot fitness center still includes a regulation-size basketball court, an indoor track and weight training equipment, among other health and wellness amenities.

The project was approved in 2015 and estimated to cost $16.7 million. Other than a ceremonial groundbreaking, work never got started due to delays in the permitting process.

The delay meant the county had to rebid the project, and the estimated cost came in about $4 million higher. For the project to move forward, the county and state would have to split that additional cost.

Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who also voted against funding the fitness center, asked during last Tuesday’s meeting why the college didn’t fire the consultants who made incorrect cost estimates on the project.

“They were off by 20 percent,” he said, noting that the campus was built without a pool in 1979 and hasn’t gone out of business.

Ben Zwirn, the college’s director of legislative affairs, said the price increase was due to the improving economy, which has led to higher construction costs.

He added that the fitness center would help to build enrollment since the Northampton campus lacks athletic facilities and its students must go to other campuses for physical education classes.

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File photo: A fitness center is planned for Suffolk County Community College in Northampton. (Credit: Tim Gannon)