The Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology at Cayuga Community College in Auburn has no staff, no working website and is lapsed in its charitable status. The institute's board, however, says it's working toward the best solution for its future, though members are foggy on what that exactly means.
The approximately 15-year-old organization began as a nonprofit, focusing on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology under the leadership of former president Bob Brower. Brower retired from the post in August, leaving a six-member board, mostly made up of CCC staff plus two vacancies, to man the helm.
Some community members and local lawmakers are panicked with the ambiguity of the institute's future, and are worried that the program, which had partnerships with NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies, could disappear.
CCC President Brian Durant, who is also the chair of the IAGT board, said the board is completing its due diligence at this time, and could have more definitive next steps by this summer.
"I just think the highlights for me continue to be that we know there's a number of supporters in the community for the institute," Durant said in a March interview with The Citizen. "We take it as seriously as everyone else does. I know people are curious, and we're trying to be as open and responsive as possible, but you know, it's at a point in its time and its history where a good thorough review needs to be done, and you know, a future to be determined."
With no funding stream to support the institute at this time, Durant said the board is looking at potential partners in the geospatial technology field. While CCC does have its own GIS program, Durant added that the college is not in a position to fund the institute, nor would it be appropriate.
Linda Van Buskirk, chair of the college's board of trustees and ex-officio member of the IAGT board, said Durant has explored potentially expanding the institute regionally or consolidating it. She said the institute cannot live on past grant funding expended nearly 20 years ago.
"Things were built, but you know, it's decades ago now, and that's reality," she said. "That's reality, and what was, what could operate 20 years ago perhaps can no longer operate now, and we have to move forward. The whole message is moving forward in the best way possible. ... Under Brian Durant's direction and with his help, IAGT will move forward in the best way possible."
Gary Knapp of Fiscal Development LLC is one community member interested in the institute's fate. He told The Citizen that GIS technology is a global problem-solving tool, and he believes there are many ways the institute can be revived. He's developed a campaign called "Save the IAGT," which he's promoted to county legislators and the county's public utility service agency. Knapp has also called on the IAGT board to convene an open meeting, which has not happened.
"We remain focused on the effort at causing a reorganization of the not-for-profit entity so it can stand up and repair itself and its relations with NASA, and become a regional application center, and get on with doing good research work at a time when there's a lot of money available to address the issues and the challenges at hand," he said.
County Legislator Tim Lattimore also continues to push for the institute's revival. It was one of his campaign issues when he ran for reelection last year. While the institute is a separate entity from CCC, it is housed at the Auburn campus, and Lattimore said he thinks IAGT could help boost enrollment.
"You just don't get a federal platform every day, and to let it go would be a major mistake," he told The Citizen in August.
IAGT board member Barry Evans, who is a research associate at Penn State's Earth & Environmental Systems Institute, said funding for these organizations is actually quite difficult to get.
"I think they (IAGT) were unusual in that there weren't too many facilities like that, not only around the state but the country, but it is the type of institute where it's difficult to get funding, more difficult now than it used to be because most of it was from the government, state and federal," Evans said. "Their funding has decreased over the years to support an institute. I just know that because I work in the area, and I know it's a lot more difficult to get funding for that type of activity than it used to be because it has an environmental bend to it."
Evans, one of the non-CCC board members, said he does not plan to stay on much longer. He's retiring soon, and he feels most of the decision making in IAGT's future should be in the hands of the CCC staff who are in the same location.
Durant said he plans to continue serving as chair, and the IAGT's charitable status is in the process of being regained. The board typically meets every six months, and is looking to meet in the next one or two months to review its research on moving forward.
"Ultimately I appreciate that there are a number of community members that have shared possibilities and ideas, and we appreciate the creativity, and we certainly, I think have had some openness to explore those ideas," he added. "We're at a point where resources really need to be secured in order to be able to invest, and the appropriate personnel, to even take those next steps to explore those possibilities."