In 1961, the County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a junior college under the University System of the State of New York (later SUNY). Five trustees were appointed by Governor Rockefeller to oversee the project. They appointed a president, James E. McVean, in 1962.
In September of 1963, the Jefferson Community College opened in Watertown
with a hundred-sixteen freshman for the day program and two-hundred students for the evening.
The first classes were offered at the Lansing Street School, in space donated by the Watertown Board of Education. Land on Coffeen Street, once part of the Ives farm, was requisitioned for the construction of a campus. Construction began on the first three buildings in 1965, while two more were added in 1968.