Making and saving history: SUNY Broome breaks ground on new Culinary Arts Center

The SUNY Broome community and local officials gathered Sept. 29 for the official groundbreaking of the college’s proposed Culinary Arts Center in downtown Binghamton.

The Center will be located in the historic Carnegie Library, formerly home to the Binghamton Public Library. Constructed in 1903, the building has been vacant for years and was included on the Preservation Association of the Southern Tier’s list of the top five endangered landmarks in the Binghamton area.

“SUNY Broome is returning to downtown Binghamton – and revitalizing an important piece of the region’s history,” said SUNY Broome President Kevin E. Drumm. “Our project will preserve the unique beauty of this historical landmark – while providing a modern learning environment for our planned culinary arts program and hospitality programs.”

The approximately $11 million facility will take between 16 and 18 months to complete, with the project going out to bid early next year. The project has received $3 million in funding from Broome County, $5 million from the State of New York, $2.2 million from the Regional Economic Development Council, and is eligible for historical tax credits. There will also be a campaign for private dollars headed by the college’s Foundation.

“I was happy to secure a $5 million appropriation in the state budget to help bring the historic Carnegie Library back to life with this new downtown development,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo. “Local food and agriculture are major components of our local economy; we want to continue to foster the culinary entrepreneurship that has helped revitalize the area. This school will encourage the next generation of restaurateurs, brewers, distillers and other producers to stay in our community.”

The facility is being designed by Passero Associates, with the guidance of Cynthia Carrington Carter, a historical architect from Renaissance Studio.

The state-of-the-art facility will house the college’s proposed new Culinary Arts program (which is pending approval), as well as aspects of its established Hospitality and Events Management programs. Amenities will include a fabrication lab for the Events Management program, a fully equipped beverage lab for mixology classes, garde manger and production kitchens, a full-dining room, a computer lab, a state-of-the-art lecture hall for cooking demonstrations, and office space, lounge areas and a proposed community education cooking studio.

“This project represents an essential ingredient that rounds the rich flavor of the prosperous local culinary scene so evident in downtown Binghamton and around Broome County,” said Professor Rey Wojdat, chair of SUNY Broome’s Hospitality Programs. “It will serve to cultivate the careers and technical education of hospitality students in an historic setting while fulfilling the mission of SUNY Broome to offer students the opportunity to identify their potential and realize professional goals.”

During the Sept. 29 groundbreaking ceremony, President Drumm opened the original 1903 time capsule placed in the Carnegie Library’s foundation, while Broome County Historian Gerald Smith and the Preservation Association of the Southern Tier’s Roger Luther described the contents to onlookers. A display of the time capsule’s contents is planned for the Culinary Arts Center once the building is complete, as well as a new time capsule to be placed in the building’s cornerstone.

When the building’s cornerstone was originally laid in 1903, librarian William Seward remarked: “It shall be the people’s university in which every man, woman and child of our city shall have part and lot.”

Those words still resonate today, Dr. Drumm reflected.

“Since the very beginning, community colleges have been democracy’s college — a place where anyone could pursue knowledge and education, not just a special few,” he said. “Not only are we keeping the Carnegie library itself intact, the college is also preserving its essential mission. It will remain the people’s college – a place of learning open to all.”