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ECC eyes changes to give each campus a theme

Constructing a new academic building in Amherst isn’t the only big idea being suggested for Erie Community College.

The two-year college should consolidate some of its programs and reorganize them in a way that would give each of its three campuses a distinct focus, or theme, a consultant’s report released last week recommends.

That could mean making the City Campus more geared toward workforce development programs, and entrenching the culinary school solely downtown rather than at both City and North campuses, as it is now.

It may mean using the North Campus in Amherst for courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM programs – as well as classes focused on public safety, like criminal justice and crime scene technology.

And it might include making the South Campus in Orchard Park more centered around liberal arts or general studies specifically for those students preparing to transfer to a four-year institution.

“Each of the college’s three campuses has its own character,” the report by JMZ Architects and Planners states. “Providing a focus, or theme, based on the programs and services clustered at each location would further define each campus, making ECC’s diverse mission and program offerings more apparent to students and the community as a whole.”

The Glens Falls-based consultant was hired to study space needs at the college, and the firm’s major recommendation to locate a new $30 million building on the North Campus – rather than downtown – was endorsed last week by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr.

While that issue – a subject of controversy over the past few years – received most of the attention last week, the consultant’s report also recommended a campus reorganization.

That, too, would have a big impact on the school.

Many of the college’s programs are offered at more than one campus – in some cases all three – which can be inefficient and costly, the report said.

“This is appropriate for most liberal arts programs, as well as high-demand programs such as business administration, criminal justice and physical education studies,” the report states.

“It does not make as much sense from a financial perspective, however, to have programs on multiple campuses that are costly, equipment-intensive and that require a large amount of space, such as culinary arts, engineering, nursing and dental programs,” the report added.

College officials said they like the recommendations from the report.

“There are enough good things in there to help us for years, and part of that is reorganization,” Quinn said.

But right now, the college is focused on the new building and isn’t ready to tackle this issue, too, Quinn said. Consolidating programs and reorganizing campuses could be a costly endeavor that would take some time, he said.

“Before we make major decisions on curriculum or class sizes, I want to consult with faculty, students and the College Senate,” Quinn said. “That would be another reason it would take some time.”