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Site planning for new ECC building delayed

There’s another wrinkle in the discussion over where to build a new academic building for Erie Community College.

Consultants hired to provide the school and county some direction on the issue held off giving a much-anticipated recommendation this week, until more information is exchanged with the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.

While college and county officials wouldn’t go into detail about what this might mean, they consider it a good sign there’s interest from the agency in charge of parceling out the Buffalo Billion that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has promised to help the region get back on its feet.

“It’s never a bad thing when the agency that’s going to control $1 billion wants more information,” said ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr.

Could that mean more help on the way in the Buffalo Billion?

“That’s what we’re hoping,” said ECC Chairwoman Patricia H. Mertz.

JMZ Architects and Planners, the consultant, is waiting for additional information from the Regional Economic Development Council to determine if there’s anything else that should be factored into the college’s space needs study, explained Jean A. Stark, a principal with the firm.

The firm was hired by the college and the county to do an analysis of space needs for ECC to help determine which campus to locate a proposed $30 million academic building.

If anything, this delay on a recommendation shows the regional council is serious about working closely with ECC, a key partner in training the region’s workforce, and wants to make sure the two entities are on the same page.

A focus of the regional council, for example, is advanced manufacturing, which ECC and the county have discussed as one of the purposes for its new academic building.

“In less than 30 days I think we’ll be able to wrap this up,” Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe said of the consultant’s report. “It will also provide for a far better outcome than either of us acting alone.”

Stark was at a meeting Wednesday on the ECC North Campus in Amherst with the college’s board of trustees and foundation members.

While Stark stopped short of providing a recommendation on which campus ECC should locate a new building, she did present some study findings.

Among them:

• Advanced manufacturing, health and life sciences and tourism are projected growth areas for the region that the college could further develop programs.

• The college should consider clustering similar programs onto the same campus. In some cases, the college offers the same academic program on two or three of its campuses, which is redundant and can be costly.

• The college needs more, updated classroom and lab space than it currently has or what is even being proposed.

“Now we know what the college needs, the next question is where to put it?” Stark said. “We’ll get back in about a month with a final recommendation.”