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Help for ECC Giambra may have good compromise for downtown, suburban campuses

Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra has resurrected his downtown plan for Erie Community College, offering a compromise that stands a better chance of meeting the concerns of county legislators. It looks like a good plan. We hope legislators will give it strong consideration.

Instead of borrowing $45 million to demolish a vacant building at 45 Oak St. and constructing a new academic building, Giambra and ECC officials are proposing to renovate the building. Under this plan, the county would borrow $3 million this year for that project and for renovations and maintenance at the North and South campuses. The county would also increase ECC's operating subsidy by $2 million, eliminating the need for a tuition increase.

The project would become more expensive next year, when the county could borrow $17 million to construct another new building and a parking facility on a county-owned lot just to the north.

The prospect of bringing more students into downtown Buffalo always has been attractive. While some college officials previously insisted that students would go elsewhere rather than come downtown, we have been doubtful that many would turn away from courses they wanted based on a false idea of an unsafe environment -- insulting as that false idea is to the students who do attend city classes.

Even if it were true, though, downtown is on the cusp of a dramatic change, linked mainly to an exciting waterfront development plan. The students would not only be coming into a rapidly changing environment, but the presence of 1,000 students, faculty and staff would change it all the more and for the better. There's nothing like human activity to enliven a place.

As for Giambra's plan, some questions need to be carefully considered. Legislators -- and the county control board -- have to be satisfied that the county can afford to borrow $3 million this year and $17 million in 2008. They also need to understand what kind of "maintenance" work is to be funded with borrowed money and whether that is appropriate for work that might better be paid through an operating budget.

We hope the plan works. Downtown needs more people, and young people should be part of the mix. Lawmakers should look at this proposal carefully, but with a mind toward fixing whatever problems it may present.

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