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ECC city growth worth pursuing With eventual consolidation, though, South, North campus work questionable

Erie Community College proposed last week in its master plan $119 million in new construction over five years, 80 percent of it in the city. Money is the most obvious issue surrounding the ECC plan, but it is not the only one or even, perhaps, the most important one.

At least as significant are continuing questions about the college's vision for itself in a shrinking and financially stressed county. The ECC plan calls for spending $95 million developing the college's Buffalo campus. The rest, which worries us, would go to ECC's campuses in Amherst and Orchard Park. Exactly where the money will come from is uncertain, though, because the college has on hand only $12.3 million and the county would have to find at least that much. Almost certainly, borrowing would have to account for much of the remainder.

Generally speaking, nothing is wrong with borrowing for important capital projects, and we support the expansion of the college's Buffalo campus. More to the point, though, we support eventual consolidation of the college into a city campus. A multicampus configuration might make sense as a marketing tool in a growing county; it is harder to justify after years of decline that show no sign of reversing.

To be sure, some investment in the North and South campuses is necessary for purposes of maintenance, safety and code compliance. But plans to build new classroom buildings on both campuses should raise red flags, as should a proposal to build student housing in Orchard Park.

This plan is part of a compromise the ECC board reached last year with the administration of Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra. As worrisome as it is, it nonetheless represents a modest improvement over its initial shape, which did less for the city campus. We will be glad to see the downtown aspects of this plan take hold, money allowing, but the debate over the future of the outlying campuses is not closed.

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