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Canisius College was to break ground today for a $15.5 million student housing complex on the site of the old West Delavan Armory.

The event marks the culmination of six years of negotiation among Canisius, state and city officials, and is considered a giant step toward solving the college's student housing shortage.

"This fall, the college's existing residence halls are filled to capacity, and we could have easily accommodated another 100 students if we had more beds," said College President Rev. Vincent M. Cooke.

The Delavan Townhouses project about to get under way will be done in two building phases, the first to erect three modules of three-story townhouses for close to 200 students who will live in three-, four- and five-bedroom apartments.

Completion of the first phase, to include a 7,000-square-foot community center for resident students, is expected by August.

The second building phase, to begin next year, will add two buildings for up to 130 undergraduates. It is earmarked for completion in August 2002.

Townhouses in the first phase will extend from the property line of School 17 to the corner of Harvard Place on West Delavan Avenue. Those in the second phase will front on Harvard.

"We want to be good neighbors and make a significant contribution to the Lafayette Avenue and Linwood-Oxford neighborhood," Cooke said, adding that he hopes the Canisius project will "spur other investments in this neighborhood on the West Side of Main Street."

Masonry, glass and contrasting light and dark brickwork will grace the exterior of the complex, whose residents will have views of Forest Lawn green space.

Cannon Design of Grand Island is architect for the project; Paragon Northeast Corp. of Erie, Pa., and Buffalo, will serve as general contractor. Funding will be through the state Dormitory Authority.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and state Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew, who both supported the college in its bid to build on the old Armory land, were among dignitaries expected to be on hand to help Cooke break ground for the project.

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