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The long debate about what to name Erie County's new courthouse is over -- thanks to a private citizen with a bright idea.

It was Francis W. Bannigan, 78, of the Town of Tonawanda, who suggested that individual rooms in the new courthouse be named for worthy people, instead of naming the whole building for just one person. On Thursday, the County Legislature unanimously approved Bannigan's idea.

So it's official: It's now the Erie County Family Court Building.

And a committee is already being formed to decide what names should go on the rooms inside the building -- an $80 million structure under construction on Franklin Street.

"Well!" said Bannigan, a retired employee of the county's probation department, when told that his idea was the winner. "This is the first time anything I ever suggested came to fruition."

County lawmakers were especially pleased with the idea -- perhaps because they were staring at a stack of more than 40 suggested names for the new courthouse.

"This is an example of when things work out right," said Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda.

It was Marinelli who first received the suggestion from Bannigan, while she was out knocking on doors in her district on a recent weekend. Bannigan, who lives on Mayfield Avenue, thought it would be great to name a room in the new courthouse after his old boss in the probation department, Charles L. Hutchinson.

"It was a very sensible solution," Marinelli said of Bannigan's proposal.

Names that had been suggested for the courthouse over the past year (and which may still be eligible for rooms in the building) include:

The Louis J. Billittier Courthouse, for the late owner of Chef's restaurant and local humanitarian. That name was suggested by County Executive Joel A. Giambra and had support among some Republicans.

The Kane-Gorski-Doyle Courthouse, after former County Executive Dennis T. Gorski and State Supreme Court Justices James B. Kane and Vincent E. Doyle. That suggestion came from Legislator Michael A. Fitzpatrick, a Buffalo Democrat, who said the three men helped get the courthouse built.

Selling the naming rights to the highest bidder, to raise a little extra cash for the county. That idea was proposed by Republican legislators Michael H. Ranzenhofer and Dr. Barry A. Weinstein, both of Williamsville.

Under the new naming system approved Thursday, a committee will be formed to develop guidelines for naming rooms within the courthouse.

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