Erie Community College's top officials have hammered out a compromise with County Executive Joel A. Giambra that makes the downtown campus the focal point of the three-campus system.
While the agreement retains the college's two suburban campuses, it shifts more academic programs and the bulk of new construction -- including an ice rink and dormitory originally proposed for the South Campus in Orchard Park -- to the City Campus.
At least two new buildings and perhaps a third academic building would be built near the downtown campus.
Any new construction would be done through innovative partnerships with other area colleges and businesses, such as sharing the dorm with students from four-year colleges.
Giambra said more students and staff would come to the City Campus than under the original plan approved in September by the ECC trustees, though an ECC official said only 60 students would move.
"This is going to make the City Campus, from my perspective, the centerpiece of the current system," Giambra said in an interview Thursday.
The compromise followed a week or so of intense negotiation, nudged along by Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and other third parties. "This has evolved into a great win for our city and our educational partners," Masiello said.
Giambra characterized the compromise as a significant shift from the plan originally approved by ECC trustees.
But William J. Mariani, ECC president, and other ECC officials disagreed.
"There are really only two substantive changes from the regional education plan," Mariani said, referring to relocating the ice rink and dorm. "Everything else stays the same."
Dr. James G. Corasanti, chairman of the ECC board, will present the new plan to other trustees at their meeting Wednesday.
After the ECC board approved an educational plan Sept. 29, county and college officials sniped at each other over its details.
Giambra refused to accept that plan, saying it preserved too much of the status quo at the Amherst and Orchard Park campuses. He urged his supporters to lobby ECC board members on his behalf.
Giambra's relationship with Mariani and Corasanti was so strained that the county executive did not talk to them for the first month after the board meeting.
Masiello; State Sen. Byron W. Brown, D-Buffalo; and developers including Carl P. Paladino encouraged Giambra and Mariani to find common ground, officials said.
"I urged both of them to find a way to get this thing done," Masiello said. Mariani and Giambra met last week for the first time since September.
The original plan looked little like Giambra's bold proposal to merge three campuses downtown.
But the trustees' plan did move the allied-health, public-safety and hospitality programs downtown, doubling the student population on that campus to 4,500.
Under the new alternative, the computer-repair technology program and a training program for Verizon workers would move downtown, adding 60 students, Mariani said.
The same number of administrators would move downtown -- about 120 -- bringing the total at City Campus to 185, leaving only security and janitorial staffers at North and South campuses in Amherst and Orchard Park respectively.
For Giambra, the key change calls for putting any new ice rink or dormitory in Buffalo instead of the South Campus.
Any new construction would be built in partnership with other colleges or businesses in a concept known as the "Communiversity," which links two- and four-year schools.
The concept, touted by ECC officials, now can count Giambra as a supporter.
He said he has talked with developer Sam Savarino about partnering with ECC on an ice rink that would be built in Buffalo instead of the site Savarino originally explored in West Seneca.
Any dormitory would house students from the University at Buffalo, Buffalo State College or another four-year school as well as ECC, officials said.
It also would have a 2,200-space parking ramp.
"The opportunity to put students downtown in a living environment is very attractive to the rejuvenation of the central business district," Giambra said.
The academic buildings also could be shared by ECC and other colleges, an effort that would lower construction costs for the county and ECC, Giambra said.
ECC officials say the original plan also called for "Communiversity" partnerships downtown.
"As far as I'm concerned, the trustees' plan always had great benefits for the City of Buffalo," said Adam W. Perry, a trustee.
He added that Giambra's plan is "virtually identical to the plan we originally devised."
Corasanti said he was glad the new alternative has Giambra's support and he believes the board and the county executive never were that far apart.
"I think Joel always viewed our original plan as not making any substantial impact to the downtown. And that's where the problem came," Corasanti said. He added, "It seems this makes it more palatable for Joel."
If the board approves this alternative, BHNT Architects will draw up a detailed construction plan, including costs. Mariani had estimated the original plan would cost $60 million.
The college, with Giambra, will explore funding, emphasizing non-traditional sources such as partnerships, the county executive said.
Construction on at least two of the academic buildings, on sites near the City Campus, could begin next year, he said. The initial construction could be finished within five years.
As part of the new alternative, Giambra promised ECC $1 million per year for the next three years for renovations on the three campuses.