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Giambra offers new ECC proposal College would use <br> building near City <br> Campus, see aid hike

Erie Community College would see a boost in aid from Erie County and take over a building near the City Campus so the college can bring more suburban students and faculty downtown as soon as this fall, under a new proposal by County Executive Joel A. Giambra.

Giambra's push to borrow $15 million this year to construct an academic building for ECC at 45 Oak St. has met with some resistance, so he and the ECC board of trustees came up with other options.

"We decided to put forth a compromise," Giambra said.

His proposal includes:

*Renovating the vacant building at 45 Oak for ECC classrooms and office space, rather than demolishing to make way for a new academic building.

*Borrowing $3 million this year, instead of $15 million, that would go toward renovations and maintenance at the North and South campuses.

*Raising by $2 million the annual operating subsidy ECC receives from the county.

Giambra hasn't given up on a new academic building, either.

As part of this package, he's proposing a new building and parking facility on the county-owned lot just north of 45 Oak, but the county wouldn't borrow the $17 million needed for that project until next year.

While both Giambra and ECC officials are pleased with this latest proposal, the question is whether the County Legislature will be, too.

Giambra sent legislators a summary of the plan this week and is expected to be at a meeting of the Finance and Management Committee on Tuesday to provide any further details.

The county executive hopes this latest attempt to expand ECC downtown will ease concerns over Erie County overextending its borrowing this year and address worries about upkeep of the suburban campuses.

In fact, Legislature Chairwoman Lynn M. Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda, credited the Giambra and ECC administrations for trying to put together a doable plan.

"I don't want to speak on behalf of my colleagues, but I like the fact that it's a comprehensive package that accounts for the needs of not just the City Campus, but North and South," Marinelli said Wednesday.

For years, Giambra has advocated that more ECC students and faculty downtown could help revitalize the city's core. He said as many as 1,000 ECC students, staff and faculty could be added downtown starting this fall with the renovation of the former Great Lakes Collections headquarters at 45 Oak.

The college would use $1 million in its own reserve funds to remodel the 52,000-square-foot county-owned building, which is bounded by South Division, Oak, North Division and Elm streets, adjacent to the City Campus, he said.

"The attractive piece to me is to get programs downtown without waiting two years to get a building constructed," Giambra said. "We can build on this synergy."

It's still fuzzy exactly how many and which programs could be moved downtown by September.

The police training academy on the North Campus and emergency training and fire protection programs on the South Campus are among the likely candidates to shift downtown, said interim ECC President William D. Reuter.

This also frees up room to start crime-scene technology and homeland security programs downtown, as well as expand other programs, like nursing, Reuter said.

A $2 million boost in the college's county subsidy -- which has been stuck at $15.4 million for several years -- would help ECC avoid a tuition hike next year, Reuter said.

And the proposed $3 million in capital money for the North and South campuses also would trigger the release of another $3 million in matching funds already secured from the state.

Reuter already has compiled a list of needed improvements -- mostly on the North Campus -- totaling $6 million.

"This is a very, very exciting plan, and we can't wait to get started," Reuter said. "I hope the Legislature supports it."

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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