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Consensus sought on ECC housing

Building student housing on Erie Community College's South Campus may depend on whether a consensus can be reached with local construction unions.

Developing student housing on 30 acres of vacant land on the South Campus in Orchard Park needs consent from the Erie County Legislature, where lawmakers are negotiating the use of union labor for the job before granting approval.

The ECC Foundation, which is sponsoring the housing project, may be able to agree on a few of the terms recently submitted by union leaders, said Natalie Harder, the foundation's executive director.

"If the project is built on campus, our position has been we would pay prevailing wages," Harder said.

The foundation, however, made it clear it will look to develop student housing off campus if it can't reach an understanding with the unions, or the county, within the next couple of weeks.

The ECC board of trustees supports the foundation in that position, even if it means increased project costs and, ultimately, higher rental rates.

ECC is eager to build student housing at each of its three campuses, starting with several three-story units for about 450 students on the South Campus.

Plans were submitted to the county -- which holds the campus property in trust for ECC -- for approval in October, but inaction by the County Legislature has delayed construction and frustrated ECC officials.

The waiting has prevented the foundation from seeking financing for the project. ECC hoped student housing would be available for the South Campus by fall 2007, but now the college is looking at the fall of 2008.

"I understand the frustration, but I don't think this was intentionally dragged out," said Erie County Legislator Michele M. Iannello, D-Kenmore. Since October, there has been a turnover in the Legislature, and the county has had other pressing issues, said Iannello, who has been meeting with members of the unions and the foundation.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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