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In bid to add building, ECC to hire consultant to examine use of space

Erie County will soon hire a consultant to study how Erie Community College uses space on its three campuses as the college prepares to construct a building.

ECC President Jack Quinn said college and county officials expect to determine where to construct the $30 million building after the study is complete -- a decision he hopes will be made before the end of the state's fiscal year in April.

Quinn said Tuesday he wants to avoid a situation in which the state's $15 million contribution to the project gets swept back into the state spending plan.

"I don't want to find ourselves in a place next year where we haven't been able to advance the plan and the money's up for some legislator from Manhattan or Long Island to say, 'Well, look, they're not using that money,' " Quinn said.

Quinn said county officials expect to issue a formal request for proposals within a week from consultants who could analyze programs and space needs on the three campuses in Amherst, Buffalo and Orchard Park. The study is expected to take about three months, he said, but it will not directly answer the question of where the new building should be.

"We need to find out what the needs are and what space is necessary," Quinn said. "Then the next logical step would be to determine where it goes."

In addition to the $15 million in state funding, the county has designated $7.5 million for the project. ECC has set aside another $2.5 million and hopes to raise the additional $5 million through its foundation.

College officials originally proposed the project as a new academic building for the college's North Campus in Amherst. Since then, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has asked the college to study its space needs.

Quinn gave an update on the project Tuesday during a presentation to the County Legislature Community Enrichment Committee on the college's proposed 2012-13 budget. The college's trustees have proposed raising tuition by 8.3 percent to $3,900 next year to make up for flat county aid, an increase in pension and health care costs and a drop in enrollment, among other financial factors.

"It's amazing what you do with the resources you have, but to get more resources, those matching funds from the state, it's imperative that we start tapping into that and revitalizing the campus," Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, an Amherst Democrat, told Quinn. "I just think that modernizing the North Campus is going to improve the college as a whole."

Quinn, in response to questions from legislators, acknowledged that college trustees have discussed a number of options as they explored the college's future financial picture, including whether the college will need to close a campus someday.

"The trustees believe our strength is in our geography," Quinn said, "that we need North and South and City open."