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ECC reaffirms commitment to City Campus

Erie Community College officials say they are committed to using their downtown facilities to train the region’s workforce needed for new blue-collar jobs that will be opening up in the coming years.

While the college recently decided to put a new building on the Amherst campus, school administrators say they remain committed to downtown Buffalo.

More than $25 million has been invested in the City Campus over the last five years, and even more will arise as its downtown workforce training center kicks into high gear, officials told reporters and editors of The Buffalo News on Tuesday.

“ECC is smack-dab in the middle of that effort, and that’s right where we belong,” President Jack Quinn said.

He added that city students will specifically benefit from training programs that place them in blue-collar jobs that are sitting unfilled or will open as older workers retire.

Just 42 students are graduating from those programs each year, but businesses in the next decade say they will need as many as 2,500 students each year – a gap they said Buffalo’s workers are well-positioned to fill.

“Right now, I can’t get students into our machinist program fast enough to get them into jobs that exist,” said Richard C. Washousky, ECC’s executive vice president.

Quinn said the state’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative calls for ECC to train potential workers at a yet-to-be-identified workforce training center, while programs at the Amherst campus will focus on placing students into four-year colleges and white-collar industries.

Inner-city students could start at the City Campus, get employed and, if they so choose, advance to programs at the Amherst location, he said.

He added that the mission of the City Campus is in line with Say Yes to Education’s public school tuition incentive program.

“Buffalo Public Schools is our feeder,” Quinn said. “If we don’t take care of these kids, who will? The graduation rate is embarrassing. It’s almost criminal.”

College and county officials in May announced plans for a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Building on the North Campus, based on a much-anticipated recommendation from an academic consultant.

The college originally wanted to place the building there but agreed to study the matter after the controversial decision was challenged by those who wanted the building downtown.

But officials said Tuesday that the Amherst campus, which was built between 1953 and the late 1960s, was in dire need of upgrades.

“I can’t even say it looks like a glorified high school,” said William D. Reuter, the college’s chief administrative and financial officer. “It looks worse than a high school.”

College officials also hope the science programs offered at the North Campus will prevent the county taxpayers from paying “charge-backs” for local students who attend classes at Niagara County Community College.

County taxpayers must help foot the bill not just for students who attend ECC but for those who attend community colleges in other counties.