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Trudeau Institute campus (Source: Wikipedia)
Trudeau Institute campus (Source: Wikipedia)

Trudeau Institute pledges long-term commitment to Saranac Lake

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Residents in Saranac Lake and local, state and federal elected officials are breathing a sigh of relief today.

On Monday, Trudeau Institute announced that it will stay in Saranac Lake. The 126-year-old biomedical research center's board of trustees voted Friday to take the option of relocating off the table.

Leaving the Adirondacks was one of several options the Institute was considering as part of its strategic planning.

But as Chris Knight reports, there are still plenty of unanswered questions about the decision and Trudeau's future direction.

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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David Woodland said last week that the Institute’s consultants would deliver an initial report on Trudeau’s future growth options at a Friday board of trustees meeting in New York City. He said no immediate decisions were expected.

But that wasn’t what happened. There was a decision — one that Dr. Dorothy Federman, a Saranac Lake physician and Trudeau trustee, called historic. She said a majority of the Institute’s 20-plus trustees wanted to make "a definitive decision" to end the speculation about Trudeau possibly leaving the community.

"The board of Trustees made a very strong commitment to Trudeau Institute staying in Saranac Lake," Federman said. "It was a nearly unanimous vote after a 10-hour meeting of all members and honorary trustees present."

In a statement released Monday, Trudeau President David Woodland said the Institute is "committed to Saranac Lake and is dedicated to advancing biomedical research in the region."

The decision drew immediate praise from elected officials like Congressman Bill Owens and Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau who had pushed Trudeau to stay in Saranac Lake.

"We’ve been interacting with them for several months after this announcement was originally made and clearly, we’re delighted," Owens said.

"I think the statement is tremendously positive for Saranac Lake," Rabideau said. "Just as we extend our committment to them, they’re extending their committment to us. And I truly believe we can achieve great things working together."

Sandy Trevor, an honorary Trudeau trustee, said the outside influence from politicans including state Sen. Betty Little, U.S. Sen Charles Schumer and Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a factor in the decision.

But more than anything, he said Trudeau’s history as a Saranac Lake institution weighed heavily on the minds of trustees at Friday’s meeting.

Lee Keet, a Saranac Lake resident and former Trudeau trustee, said the Institute’s mission has always been and should continue to be Saranac Lake-based.

"I believe the outpouring they have received from everybody from ex-trustees to ex-administrators to political figures has awakened them to the fact that the primary goal of the Institute is to do science in Saranac Lake," Keet said.

Trudeau officials and board members wouldn’t comment on the specifics of their consultant's study and reports that Trudeau was being lured out of state by the promise of hundreds if not millions of dollars in financial incentives.

It was also unclear Monday just how Trudeau would be refocusing its strategic planning, although Woodland thanked lawmakers for their offers to provide help and support at the state and federal levels.

Federman said Institute’s board has a lot of work to do.

"All I can say is that to thrive in Saranac Lake, we clearly have to collaborate with the rest of the world. And we’re going to need help, and we acknowledge that and appreciate the offers of help," she said.

Some say Trudeau needs to take a look at its research priorities. Although its remote location in the Adirondacks has helped attract new scientists over the years, Lee Keet said there are certain types of research, including some of the work currently taking place at the Institute, that may not be suited to such a site.

He suggested Trudeau trustees and their scientific advisors refocus on the kinds of research that can be done productively in a isolated area.

"Now that there committed to Saranac Lake, it’s going to take a major effort to realign the science and the management or the organization to this new charter which says we want to do the best science we can in

Saranac Lake and some of the science that we’re planning to do or were thinking we might be doing in the future may not fit that mold, but yet there’s other science that can be done productively that we should be trying to attract to Saranac Lake."

Since government grants aren’t a given, especially in the current political climate, Keet also said Trudeau needs to do a better job of tapping the private sector, specifically private foundations that support biomedical research, for funding.

While politicians and local residents were celebrating on Monday, Trudeau's decision to stay in Saranac Lake, also ends months of anxiety for Trudeau's 130 plus employees, many of whom relocated here and have put down roots in Saranac Lake.

Several Trudeau faculty and staff approached outside the Institute's headquarters on Monday declined to speak on tape, although one employee said she was grateful the option of Trudeau moving was off the table, saying Saranac Lake is the foundation for the Institute.

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