Bergen Community College (BCC) just completed the first year of a pilot program offering classes at Fort Lee High School. The president of the college told the Fort Lee Mayor and Council Thursday that while that program is going to continue and possibly expand in the fall, he’d like to explore the possibility of developing a 10- to 12-classroom satellite center in Fort Lee in the near future.
“Our demographics indicate that we could have many more students [if we had a center in Fort Lee],” BCC president Jeremiah Ryan told the borough’s governing body at Thursday’s executive session. “This last semester we went through kind of a pilot program that worked pretty well at the high school. For this fall, we anticipate having many more courses we’ll be advertising. We’ll be working with community leaders to determine what they ought to be. We’re excited about being able to offer more courses here.”
Ryan said BCC has about 35,000 students enrolled in credit and non-credit courses scattered across three campuses in Paramus—its main campus—Hackensack and Lyndhurst (Bergen Community College at the Meadowlands).
Ryan said he’d like to continue the program at Fort Lee High School for the time being and build up local enrollment before deciding to build or rent space for a center in Fort Lee, and that he has no particular timeframe in mind. But ideally he said he’d be looking for about 25,000 square feet of space to accommodate 10 to 12 classrooms located close to “the heart of town.”
“What I’d like to do is be able to develop a center a lot of people could walk to,” Ryan said. “I’d want it to be downtown; I’d want it to be someplace near the heart of town so I don’t have to have a bookstore, [and] I don’t have to have a cafeteria. They’d be able to go down the street for those sorts of things.”
Ryan also talked about the potential benefits for both Fort Lee and the school itself.
“A college town is a good economic town,” he told the mayor and council. “It’ll bring a lot of kids downtown. They’ll spend a lot of money. My own purpose is that a center in Fort Lee might attract people from surrounding towns. I could get people from Palisades Park; I could get people from Tenafly and Edgewater and so on.”
Speaking after the meeting, Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich said BCC approached the borough a couple of years ago about the possibility of putting such a center in the vacant “triangle” parcel of land across Main St. from In Napoli. But he said it didn’t work out because “we didn’t really want to do anything that would have an impact on Redevelopment Area 5 until [it] was developed.”
Thursday’s meeting was the first time Sokolich floated the possibility of Redevelopment Area 5 itself—now that it’s in the process of being developed—as a potential location for a BCC satellite center.
“I don’t know how it would play out, but in the agreement that settled all of that litigation, there was an alternative on the Tucker parcel—the west parcel—that [Tucker] reserves the right that in lieu of building X number of residential units, he would be entitled to build X square feet of commercial space,” Sokolich said. “So if the market two or three years from now has a demand for commercial, and that’s the way he wants to go, there are certain sections in his development area he would be allowed to do that … It just entered my mind that that might be an option for [Ryan]. He’s looking for 25,000 to 30,000 square feet. It’s something that’s expandable. It might be something that they want to consider.”
The borough however is staying out of it, Sokolich emphasized. The college would have to find its own space to rent or build on its own dime, and the borough is “not paying a nickel for this,” he said.
“I’m going to put Ryan in the direction of that developer,” Sokolich said. “If these guys can have a conversation and it’s meaningful and maybe one day they strike a deal, great. I don’t envision that in the near future though. We’ve got to go through this whole litmus test with the high school, make sure there’s enough people interested [and] Tucker’s still got to get plans in. They haven’t even built that project yet. So you’re talking years, and years and years down the road.”
Still, Sokolich said, he likes the idea of the center in theory.
“It adds a fabric—a character to the community,” he said. “Can you imagine, 1, 2 o’clock in the afternoon you see walking traffic? Who’s going to lunch? Who’s going to a bookstore? Businesses pop up to accommodate an influx of people. And then to have those kids frequenting the shops and businesses, I think it’s got potential.”
Sokolich said Ryan does quite a bit of community outreach “to make sure that he’s welcome and to make sure that there’s a need. So that’s basically what he did [Thursday].”
In answer to a question from a member of the public regarding the potential for shared use of such a space with the Fort Lee school district in light of its own classroom space challenges, Ryan struck a positive note.
“They’ve been very good about opening up their arms to us to allow us to share their space,” he said. “So if we have the space, and they need the space, we’d be more than happy to share it with them.”