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County Executive Joel A. Giambra opposes the new Erie Community College master plan because it calls for extensive suburban construction and doesn't shift enough programs to the City Campus.

In particular, he objects to plans for an ice rink and dormitories on the South Campus and a new academic building on the North Campus in Williamsville. He said college officials added those and other provisions to the ECC master plan well after the fact.

"I felt a little misled and a little violated," he said.

ECC officials say they kept Giambra well-informed during the planning process. And they blasted him for announcing at the last minute that he objects to the board's final proposal.

"The county executive is trying to position himself as some kind of victim here" but the victims are ECC's students and staff, ECC President William J. Mariani told The Buffalo News editorial board Thursday. "It isn't good, it isn't fun, to be in an institution where your students and your faculty constantly question the future of the institution."

The debate over ECC's future has badly fractured the relationship between college officials and the county administration. Giambra and Mariani haven't spoken since late September, and each sharply questions the other's integrity.

A defiant Giambra said he'd continue to lobby ECC trustees to reconsider his original plan to merge the three campuses.

ECC trustees say they aren't backing down from their proposal, which enhances the City Campus but preserves the suburban campuses.

"This is a plan the board has embraced and we're moving ahead with it," Dr. James G. Corasanti, the board chairman, said in an interview.

County and college officials have spent the past nine months debating ECC's future.

Giambra, from the beginning, argued that merging the North and South campuses into a state-of-the-art City Campus would boost the downtown economy and attract students.

ECC trustees said the college would lose students to other community colleges if it closed the suburban campuses.

"We're not in the urban development business. We're not in the job business for the City of Buffalo. We're in the education business," Trustee Nancy A. Gaglione told The News editorial board.

Giambra initially signaled he supported the trustees' plan, but changed his mind because of its suburban construction. He said he opposes building an ice rink and dorm at the South Campus and new academic space at North.

Mariani and the trustees said any suburban construction included in the plan won't happen until its later phases.

While they promise to seek common ground, county and college officials say they can't trust the other side.

Giambra, for example, wonders why an early version of the trustees' plan includes a "branch campus" to be built in Amherst along the Lockport Expressway. The version presented by Mariani at the Sept. 29 meeting does not.

Mariani insists the idea of a branch campus -- meant to capture suburban students who now attend Niagara County Community College -- was included at Giambra's request. Mariani said he took the idea out of the final version when the county executive announced he didn't support the master plan. Giambra denied pushing for the branch campus.

ECC officials question cost estimates used by Giambra, including the figure of $130 million to maintain three campuses.

They said the cost of making minimal repairs to the three campuses is only $17 million, according to a report from Wendel Duchscherer Architects and Engineers. Their overall plan for the college -- featuring partnerships with area four-year schools and the YMCA -- would cost $60 million, said William D. Reuter, ECC's chief administrative and financial officer.

Even if Giambra could find the $160 million needed for his plan, Mariani said the county executive has broken fiscal promises before.

For example, Mariani said the county's budget director promised ECC an extra $500,000 in aid this year but never provided it.

Giambra said the county didn't increase ECC's aid because county officials found the college was underestimating revenue and overestimating expenses.

"You talk about credibility? What does that do to their credibility? . . . Now I'm mad. Insult my integrity? That's bull----," Giambra said.

In fact, Giambra said he was seeking federal housing money to help pay for an ECC merger. And he had planned to put $20 million from the county's tobacco settlement into this year's budget to phase in his consolidation plan.

He said he will not apply that money to the first phase of the trustees' plan.


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