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Student housing for ECC South Campus takes a step forward

Student housing for Erie Community College appears to be back on track.

The County Legislature last week granted the Erie Community College Foundation a ground lease to build student housing on the South Campus in Orchard Park.

There still are important details the foundation has to work out -- including forming a separate nonprofit corporation for the venture and securing the financing -- but the ground lease was an important hurdle to clear, said Susan Marchione, executive director of the foundation.

It now gives the foundation -- which is taking the lead on the housing project -- the ability to seek proposals from developers to design and build the student residences, she said.

While Marchione shied away from setting a timetable, ECC is eager to get the project under way.

"We're still hoping to have student housing in place for fall of '08," said interim ECC President William D. Reuter.

ECC believes there's a market for student housing and has been eager to explore options on all three of its campuses.

South Campus has the highest full-time enrollment of the three, has the vacant land and is best equipped to absorb an influx of student residents. But the college first needed a ground lease from the county, which holds the property in trust.

Since the foundation began discussing plans with the county in late 2005, there have been delays, including negotiating the use of union labor for the construction and ensuring the project won't have a negative impact on the environment.

The issues have been resolved, Reuter said.

The plan is to build five three-story buildings, for 448 beds, on 5.7 acres on the south side of the campus, off Big Tree Road.

The foundation would borrow the money and pay the debt from the student rent.

The county, under terms of the agreement, won't receive any money from the 49-year lease, but the lease from the county was needed in order to operate student housing on site.

ECC is trying to keep up with other community colleges.

Nearly half of the state's community colleges are considering or building student housing, Reuter said.

"ECC's lack of student housing results in severe challenges for its recruitment of international students, student athletes and county residents desiring the experience of going away to college without having to travel far from home," Reuter said.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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