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UB CENTER GETS FUNDING TO BUILD NEW FACILITY

The University at Buffalo's Educational Opportunity Center has received $12 million in the recently approved state budget to use toward construction of a new facility.

The money is included in the State University of New York capital budget and could pay for the construction of a new building, the purchase and renovation of an existing structure or the rehabilitation and expansion of the center's current home in downtown Buffalo.

State and UB officials say the building at 461 Washington St. has aged badly and in its current form no longer meets the center's needs. Those officials have been looking for a new home -- and the money to pay for it -- for a decade.

"This is the end result of a very long process," said Sherryl D. Weems, the center's executive director. "It has been a long journey."

The center is part of a SUNY program that provides educational job training, college preparation and support services to the economically and academically disadvantaged.

The UB center, which has been located in the Washington Street building since its inception, serves about 2,000 students a year with a budget of $4 million and a staff of 80, Weems said.

"What's offered here leads them either to a job, upward mobility or to college," said Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples, D-Buffalo, whose district includes the center.

The Washington Street building, which is owned by the UB Foundation, doesn't meet the center's educational needs, has high maintenance and utility costs, and doesn't lend itself to technological upgrades, Weems said.

"We don't have a lot of flexibility in terms of how we use the space," she said.

A plan developed in the late 1990s -- but eventually discarded -- had the center sharing space in the Erie Community College City Campus.

In early 2000, UB officials announced the center would be moving to the former Empire of America Realty Credit Corp. building at 100 Seneca St., but the funding never materialized.

In recent years, the center focused on winning state funding for a new building, she said, and worked with state lawmakers from Western New York to that end.

Peoples and other legislators fought to include money for the center in last year's budget, only to see Gov. George E. Pataki veto the spending.

This year, Pataki and State Legislature leaders reached deals that preserved this and other budget items.

The SUNY capital budget also includes $12 million for the Rochester center, Peoples said.

The Buffalo money could be used to purchase an existing building or to buy land and build from scratch.

The center needs to stay in the city, Peoples said, but it doesn't have to be near its current location as long as it is accessible to public transportation.

SUNY, UB, ECC and city officials will be involved in the planning for the new center, Peoples said, which is in the preliminary stages.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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