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NCCC unveils plans for $30 million STEM building

Niagara County Community College leaders want more "wow factor" for its campus.

On Friday, they announced plans for a new building that they hope will help get them there.

The college called Friday for a $30 million project for a new building to house courses in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.

A later phase of the project would include renovation of Building C, the existing space used for those courses, which Lindsay Rose, assistant professor of chemistry, said has changed little since the campus opened in 1973.

The college Board of Trustees authorized a feasibility study on the project more than a year ago, and the report showed a need for expanded and improved facilities.

Interim President William J. Murabito said the $30 million probably would pay only for the new building. The renovation of the current space, much of which would be turned over to the college's nursing program, would be a second phase of the project, Murabito said.

Rose said all NCCC students, regardless of major, must take a STEM course to obtain their degrees.

She said the college would be able to attract more students and provide better job training with improved facilities. She said the state Labor Department website currently shows about 200 science and engineering jobs open within 15 miles of the NCCC campus.

The new two-story building, covering 93,800 square feet, would feature upgraded laboratories for biology, chemistry, engineering and technology, Rose said. Also to be built as part of the project would be six greenhouses, totaling 11,300 square feet.

Rose said NCCC's facilities "lack that wow factor you see on the other side of the county line. ... We have to be able to compete in our local market."

Improved facilities would help keep Niagara County students at home, "and maybe attract a few from the other side of the county line. Studies have shown there's an increase in enrollment upon the opening of new facilities," Rose said.

Bob McKeown, assistant vice president for enrollment management, said NCCC recently has seen an increase in the number of students seeking STEM programs.

"That is why the STEM center is vitally important for the growth of the college," McKeown said.

Under State University of New York regulations, SUNY pays half the cost of all approved building construction projects, and the sponsor — Niagara County in this case — pays the other half. For instance, NCCC's new $25 million Learning Commons, slated to open this fall, was funded with $10 million the county borrowed in 2016 through a 20-year bond issue, and $2.5 million raised by the NCCC Foundation.

The Learning Commons included improvements to the library, enlargement of nearby classrooms and enclosure of a former outdoor courtyard to provide more study space.

County Manager Richard E. Updegrove said the county still has 18 years of payments on the Learning Commons borrowing, and he made no commitments to funding for a STEM center.

"We'll certainly consider the college's priorities. The county's been committed to the educational opportunities NCCC provides since its inception, so I would expect that to continue," Updegrove said.

But he said those requests must be considered "within the parameters of budget constraints, obviously those imposed under the state's tax cap."

The project was discussed during NCCC's Leadership Breakfast in the college's Culinary Institute in Niagara Falls.

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