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County officials have no good reason to conceal renderings of ECC building

Refusal by Erie County and Erie Community College officials to make public architect’s renderings of a new $30 million academic building on the college’s North Campus in Amherst is a petty insult to taxpayers helping fund this project.

The county’s plan to build a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics building on its North Campus is a reasonable part of the effort to attract and retain students. However, it is never a good idea to keep public information away from the public.

Kideney Architects, the architectural and engineering firm hired by the county for the project, has created renderings reportedly featuring a two-story building with large windows and a pale yellow exterior to fit in with the rest of the campus. It sounds nice, as does the description of the site, along the Youngs Road side of the campus and forming a grassy quadrangle with the library to the east, Gleasner Hall to the north and Spring Student Center to the south.

As News staff reporter Jay Tokasz noted, college officials proudly showed off a sketch last week to faculty members and the college’s board of trustees, making sure to point out that the design was likely to change as the construction management firm worked through more detailed cost estimates. Then they must have realized, or perhaps been told, it wasn’t time to share the drawings any further.

However, unveiling the sketch at a public meeting made it a public document. Moreover, a good deal of public money is involved. The state is contributing $15 million and the county $7.5 million, to match the college’s $7.5 million share.

The lack of transparency is appalling. The News requested a copy of the sketch and college officials declined, even after admitting that they had already shown the sketch at a public meeting. They passed the buck to County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who also refused to release what had become a public document.

He said college officials were not authorized to show the sketches. In his words, it is a “work in progress” subject to change that might raise the public’s expectations. The officials are not giving the public enough credit for being able to digest the fact that the renderings are subject to change.

Show members of the public the sketches. After all, they paid for them.