Some county legislators, worried that one of Erie Community College's campuses could be on the chopping block, have called a halt to County Executive Joel A. Giambra's plans for a massive new study of the college.
"This is not a door I'm interested in opening," said Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore.
Swanick and some members of the Legislature's Democratic majority sent a sharp message to the Republican Giambra administration last week: No study that even considers closing any of the college's three campuses will be done. They sent Giambra's proposal for a $383,000 study of ECC to a legislative committee, which means there will be no action on the item for at least a few weeks.
ECC serves slightly more than 10,000 students on its three campuses, a number that is up slightly from last spring. Among other improvements, the college is adding a football program in the fall.
Giambra fired back a salvo of his own Friday, saying that "nothing is off the table" when it comes to the college.
"I'm not advocating that we close campuses," said Giambra. "But why would you say that we're going to figure out what the role and mission of Erie Community College is . . . but (then say) we're not going to look at this, this and this?"
ECC President William J. Mariani told legislators he wants a full study of the college. He said rumors that North Campus will be closed are not true.
But there are options for leasing or reusing college property to provide opportunities for local businesses and for students at the same time, Mariani said.
"This will help us focus on what our college needs to do to succeed in Western New York," he said.
At the crux of the controversy is a $383,000 contract with a Williamsville firm, Resultants International, to conduct a 12-month study of every aspect of ECC -- from facilities to curriculum to possible uses of the extra space owned by the county at two of the three campuses. Experts from as far away as Texas and Indiana are slated to fly in to help with the study.
Giambra said there is no point in doing a study that rules out certain conclusions from the start.
"When you begin to re-imagine and re-engineer, the way to do it most effectively is not to have blinders on," Giambra said. "These (legislators) aren't used to change. That's the real issue here."
Republican legislators support the idea of a no-holds-barred study, as do at least two Democrats, Buffalo Legislators Albert DeBenedetti and Gregory B. Olma.
Olma said he wants to see the three campuses studied in depth, with the possibility of changes on the table. For example, he said, ECC City Campus in Buffalo and ECC North in Amherst -- a campus that is getting old and run-down -- could be combined and the new joint campus could be situated near, or on the grounds of, UB's Main Street campus.
"Why not look at it?" Olma said. "I don't think we should be confined to any one configuration."
The Legislature's Community Enrichment Committee will discuss the issue at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in County Hall.