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$7.5 million commitment to ECC affirmed Poloncarz administration supports plan for new academic building on North Campus

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz plans to uphold a county commitment to contribute $7.5 million to help construct a new Erie Community College academic building, but he wants the college to embark on a broader planning process to determine what programs it will house.

Deputy County Executive Richard M. Tobe said Tuesday that the county and the college will form a task force to explore the plan to construct a new $30 million building on the college's North Campus in Amherst.

The group will look at a number of issues, including how big it would be, what types of classrooms and labs it would house, and how it would affect programs on all three of the college's campuses.

"Our administration is committed to these types of activities," Tobe told county legislators Tuesday. "But we want the work to be done in sequence, laid out properly and to produce the best possible result we can get."

Tobe also gave the first public assurance since Poloncarz took office that the new county executive would continue to set aside $7.5 million in county funds for the building's construction.

"In speaking to County Executive Poloncarz, he said that he would make sure that money is secured," Tobe said.

County lawmakers last year agreed to designate $7.5 million for the project, with the expectation that the college and its foundation would raise another $7.5 million.

That money would be used to match $15 million in state aid that is in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed 2012-13 budget.

But the county's designation for its share of the project cost will expire later this spring, and the college wanted an assurance that county lawmakers will continue to honor that pledge.

College President Jack F. Quinn Jr. had held several meetings with college officials in recent weeks to discuss the project.

"The county executive and Rich Tobe have made it clear what they want is an up-to-the-minute survey of exactly what would go in the building, where it would free up space in other spaces," Quinn said. "We're in total agreement."

Poloncarz, in a Feb. 10 letter to Quinn, asked the college to complete several studies related to the building's construction, including a cost-benefit analysis, a space utilization study and a building use report.

Tobe said Tuesday that county officials would like the college to explore whether the building could house advanced programs in manufacturing -- an area that county economic-development officials would like to see expanded to meet the needs of area employers.

The deputy county executive said he has heard from manufacturers throughout the county who have asked for greater training to help prepare potential employees for job openings.

College officials initially talked about the planned $30 million building as a home for the college's health sciences programs but later said that it could include space for liberal arts, criminal justice and technology programs.

Quinn said Tuesday that the college's plans for what programs would be housed in the building are "fluid," as college officials continue to assess ECC's needs.

"One of the things we find at the community college level is that our needs seem to always be changing," Quinn said.

The proposal to construct a new building on the college's aging North Campus has provoked opposition from those who think the college should focus on consolidating its three campuses -- Amherst, Orchard Park and City -- in downtown Buffalo.

College trustees, however, are focused on constructing the new building on the North Campus.

email: djgee@buffnews.com