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Rural/Metro Medical Services expects to hire 90 new paramedics, dispatchers and other employees during the next three years as part of a plan to consolidate and expand its local ambulance operations at a site on Northumberland Avenue.

Included in the $1.5 million project will be the creation of a state-of-the-art, computer-aided dispatch center and headquarters in an existing 30,610-square-foot building.

The 2.4-acre University District site adjoins the recently completed section of the William L. Gaiter Parkway, a corridor that has been identified by the Masiello administration as a focal point for new development.

The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. has approved the sale of 452 Northumberland to Rural/Metro for $143,000. Ross Wilson and Associates Inc. will be the site developer.

The first phase of Rural/Metro's plan will occur in January or February when the regional fleet maintenance facility moves to the site from its current location on Broadway in Cheektowaga. The maintenance unit employs nine people.

Within the next one to three years, Rural/Metro will move its communications, billing, administration and education unit to the Northumberland site. The functions are currently performed in space that the company leases at 600 Delaware Ave. in Allentown.

When the consolidation and expansion is completed, at least 200 workers will be based at the new facility, including 120 paramedics who deliver emergency medical services for the city and suburbs.

The company's 30 hospital satellite and suburban units will not be affected by the move. Rural/Metro employs about 450 workers throughout Western New York.

Russ Maxwell, area general manager, said the company expects to hire about 30 new employees annually over the next three years. He said medical transportation needs will increase due in part to an aging population base.

Maxwell said the Northumberland site is ideal for the company's needs.

"It has good access to the Kensington Expressway, it's centrally located and it's located in the Economic Development Zone, which offers a lot of benefits to us and the city," he said.

Maxwell promised officials that special efforts will be made to hire city residents and that Rural/Metro has been working with local minority groups to promote diversity.

Masten District Council Member Byron W. Brown said he has been talking with officials from Rural/Metro for several months about relocating its facilities to the East Side. He said the expansion should create new job opportunities for inner city residents.

Rural/Metro is a publicly traded corporation doing business in more than 25 states. It has been operating in Western New York since 1995, when it acquired LaSalle Ambulance. In addition to servicing Buffalo, the company also has a strong presence in Amherst, Cheektowaga, Niagara Falls and other municipalities.

The BERC is also moving forward with construction of a $1.8 million business center on Gaiter Parkway. The 25,000-square-foot building will be built between Kensington Avenue and the Kensington Expressway and will accommodate up to five tenants.

Over the objections of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, the agency has awarded the contract to Kulback's Construction Inc., the lowest responsible bidder. Union representatives claim the Lancaster company engages in poor labor relations practices. BERC staffers said they investigated and determined that Kulback's has a satisfactory business record.

The company has also given assurances to the city that 30 percent of its work force and sub-contractors will be minorities. Mayor Masiello directed staffers to make sure the goal is met.

"We're going to look very bad if there isn't minority participation on this project," he said. "We won't tolerate a lopsided work force."

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