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The Erie Community College board of trustees Wednesday reaffirmed a decision to have the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo vacate the Newman Center on the South Campus by the end of this month.

All the trustees at the board's monthly meeting, except for Louis J. Billittier, decided not to extend the operation of the center at 4196 Abbott Road despite an appearance before the board by Monsignor David M. Lee. He asked the board for an extension on the Aug. 31 deadline with the stipulation that the diocese would try to work out a new agreement, find another location or negotiate to purchase the property. Monsignor Lee also lives in the center.

"There are other ways to work this out. . . . We could have all the denominations meet at the same place," Billittier said.

"Three dollars a day for a living arrangement, and this had been going on for years. As a school supported by taxpayer dollars, in my view this violates the First Amendment of the Constitution," Trustee Thomas J. Burton said.

Burton and board Vice Chairwoman Marybeth Cullinan -- who also called the arrangement a violation of the laws that separate church and state -- stressed that the problem did not involve the center's program or reflect in any way on Monsignor Lee. The Newman Center has operated in the South Campus building 19 years.

However, the trustees raised the issue of possibly being forced to accommodate other denominations, based on the Newman Center agreement. Monsignor Lee said the center is not exclusively for Catholics and the services it provides are for students, staff and other people on campus regardless of their faith.

"This doesn't mean the Catholic Church is wrong. It means that the relationship we have with it is wrong. . . . If we extend this, we are opening up ourselves to damages," said Burton, implying the possibility that the college could be sued in the matter.

"If we are allowed the extension, the diocese would be willing to increase the rent," Monsignor Lee said.

In other business, the board approved a shuttle contract with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority that will use six vehicles to take students between the city and suburban campuses. The $100,000 contract at a rate of $31 an hour will begin in the fall semester and allow ECC students to take courses at campuses with special labs that offer technical instruction in skill areas such as automotives and metalworking.

In another matter, Mary Bartolotta, vice president for administration, told the board the college has collected $2.6 million in tuition this year. Last year at this time, the college had collected only $376,659.13 in tuition.

She attributed the more than $2 million increase to a prepay policy that requires students to pay for courses they plan to attend.

Burton urged more action on the collection of up to an estimated $6 million in old tuition bills.

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