Local residents joined the Binghamton University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SOPPS) faculty and staff last week at a town hall to discuss the economic impacts of Binghamton University’s new Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City.
The town hall, which was held at the George Korutz Justice Building in downtown Johnson City, featured announcements on the status of the new campus and initiatives on how the campus will be integrated with the local community. An online map initiative called Story Map was announced at the town hall, which will serve as a public website to include information on the site’s history and the changing economics and demographics of the area surrounding 96 Corliss Ave. This collaboration between BU administrators and the geography department will be headed by John Frazier, director of graduate studies in the geography department.
Frazier said it’s important to take the opportunity of SOPPS’ opening to monitor the transformation of Johnson City.
“We want to know — what are some of the conditions on the positive and negative sides on statistics like crime, drugs and housing?” Frazier said. “We are going to monitor all of these things over a long period of time, which has not been done before.”
Frazier said important elements of the project will be taking the concerns of residents into account and providing community members with tangible information.
“One of the goals of this project is to provide information on what residents think are the issues and what small businesses think are the issues,” Frazier said. “We heard some of those concerns tonight but we are going to put those packages together and go to the meetings and tell them what they are saying.”
Johnson City resident Laura Bilek raised concerns about her experiences with crime and safety issues, but said she’s encouraged by the potential of upswing for the community by the new school.
“It may increase my property value, and I am sure that it will increase my quality of life when I retire and stay here without all the bad elements around the area,” Bilek said. “Despite the concerns of gentrification, I nevertheless think that it will be better in the long run and it is going to be awesome for Johnson City.”
The issue of the opioid crisis in the local community and how SOPPS might help was also addressed. Gloria Meredith, founding dean of SOPPS, said the issue will be undertaken from a research-based standpoint.
“We’ve started a number of projects with other health professionals in this area, so we will be tackling the problem from a research standpoint,” she said. “But that will be a research standpoint that will involve patients, and involve mental health care … no one person or school is going to solve this problem, but we are already putting boots on the ground and we are collaborating a lot with the nursing school to be able to tackle in terms of services and research.”
BU President Harvey Stenger noted the potential of the school to bring more employment opportunities to the area.
“We are going to create a lot of jobs in Johnson City,” Stenger said. “We hope that through new job opportunities that range from retail to technicians in the Pharmacy School … hopefully they will be able to improve on their standard of living. However, that’s hard and it sounds like it could work, only if we are actively helping them.”
Stenger said that tracking changes through Story Map and making decisions with the relevant community in mind would aid the school’s integration into the community.
“If we are watching it and monitoring it, I think we can identify problems that might occur and maybe some possible solutions for that as well,” he said.
Johnson City Mayor Greg Deemie said he hopes to see the former site of the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Factory become a center of revitalization for Johnson City, as long as its effects on the community are taken into consideration.
“As President Stenger said, it is something that we are going to have to look at, as time goes by and to base our decisions in the future on those who may be displaced, and to address the needs of the community,” Deemie said. “It’s a process.”
Jerry Putman, a resident of Johnson City, said he hopes the school’s development allows the village to flourish and experience the same benefits as the city of Binghamton following the establishment of the University Downtown Center.
“Just imagine the possibilities that can exist from this community and this construction,” Putman said. “It’s a whole revitalization. Neighborhoods change; cities change. It’s a great project and I think that we as village residents have got to help make this successful because the University can’t do it by themselves. It’s got to be done with the residents and local politicians — everyone’s going to have to make it work.”
SOPPS’ first classes started in August. Students and faculty are expected to begin using the facility in the summer of 2018.