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Rethink ECC project; County Legislature was right to soften stance on site for academic building

It appears as if Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz is keeping his options open when it comes to the location of a new academic building for Erie Community College.

That's good.

So is news that county lawmakers, by unanimous vote, redesignated the $7.5 million set aside for the project but loosened the language about how the funds will be used. A year ago the Legislature specified that the money was to be used for a new building on the aging North Campus. In a significant change, the money is now designated for "Erie Community College building construction."

ECC officials have been pushing for a new academic building on the North Campus for two years. Poloncarz has lately made clear that he wants more planning before the decision is made about the building's location.

Poloncarz, in a letter to members of the Buffalo Common Council, wrote: "Without a thorough analysis of ECC's needs and the intended use for the building, no determination can be made of either the programs to be housed in it or the most appropriate site."

Here's a helpful hint on the proper site: downtown.

There's very little logic in continuing to spread resources throughout a three-campus system, as opposed to concentrating those efforts and funds into the downtown core. Poloncarz and county lawmakers should consider carefully the critical mass being developed downtown and the practicality of locating valuable educational resources near the expanding Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Eventually, access to Main Street downtown also will improve as progress continues in returning cars and two-way traffic to the stretch from Goodell Street to the Buffalo River.

So why not locate the new $30 million community building at its downtown location?

It's a question that's long been raised by former County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who has continued to pursue the goal of merging three campuses into one downtown. Giambra was right years ago, and he remains correct when he says that doing so would strengthen the institution.

Last month, ECC officials did say that plans for which programs would be in the new building are "fluid," and could include liberal arts, criminal justice and some technology. All subjects that fit well into a downtown setting.

Those who argue for placing the academic building on the North Campus say that they are competing for students -- and dollars -- when students opt instead for Niagara County Community College. And that reasoning, they insist, holds for a new academic building or a proposed dormitory.

But that argument doesn't hold up against the collective resources available in Buffalo's downtown nor the fact that the 50-year-old North Campus is in desperate need of attention. Expensive repairs and improvements to what's already there are needed.

Focusing its attention and resources downtown not only strengthens the community college but adds more momentum to the progress being made in the renovation of historic buildings, infrastructure improvements and educational and research opportunities, all of which are adding to the general sense of renewed vitality downtown.

Students, especially those seeking careers in law enforcement and health care, should want to be in the center of those operations downtown. Buffalo is moving forward, and ECC should be part of that progress.