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Canisius asks OK on Science Hall

A Main Street building that once housed a huge department store and later became home to a health insurer is about to undergo another transformation this time with a scientific twist.

Canisius College has filed plans seeking city permission to take the first steps on its long-planned Science Hall. The $68 million project in the former HealthNow Building at Main Street and Jefferson Avenue will completed in phases over several years.

Canisius officials are asking the Planning Board to approve a design and site plan for the first phases, including the addition of an entranceway off Jefferson Avenue that will lead to a courtyard.

If the college receives the required approvals, work is expected to begin next month. Canisius hopes to start using the 237,000-square-foot building by the fall of 2012.

"I'm very excited to get this project going," Canisius President John J. Hurley told The Buffalo News on Wednesday. "This is a big thing for us. It will be our largest project."

The first round of work will involve renovations on the first and second floors that will result in a science lab, computer labs, classrooms, conference rooms and other facilities.

Hurley said Canisius already has one of the best undergraduate science programs in the nation. He also said he was convinced the new facility will allow the college to expand on some of its strengths while branching into new directions. Plans, for example, call for an Institute for Autism Research and a robotics lab.

Canisius took ownership of the complex in 2008 and has been using an adjacent parking ramp. The building itself has been mothballed since HealthNow moved its headquarters to a new downtown complex nearly four years ago.

The four-story structure adjacent to Canisius College served as a Sears, Roebuck store for a half-century before the chain shuttered it in 1980.

The college already has secured more than $25 million for the project, Hurley said. This includes $16 million in financing through M&T Bank and the Buffalo and Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp.

Hurley said funding also includes $7 million from the state, as well as a $2 million grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation and a $400,000 federal grant earmarked for the project.

Hurley said he believes that completion of the first phases of the Science Hall will help the college to raise additional funds to finish the project. Canisius' science programs currently are scattered in three buildings.

Masten Council Member Demone A. Smith, who represents the neighborhood surrounding Canisius College, said the community supports the project.

The Planning Board could approve the design and site plan for the project's early phase at its Tuesday meeting.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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