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STEM building for ECC offers design that blends in

The possibility of state historic landmark status for Erie Community College’s North Campus in Amherst factored into the design of a new $30 million academic building.

The look of the low-slung, pale brick buildings constructed on campus in the 1950s and ’60s has drawn some derision for years. Nonetheless, the first new academic building to be built on the campus in decades has been designed to fit in, with similarly looking drab bricks covering much of its exterior.

County and college officials this week unveiled design sketches of the long-delayed project. They announced that construction of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, building is now scheduled to begin in May, with a planned opening in September of 2017.

“With these architectural renderings and planned spring groundbreaking, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said ECC President Jack F. Quinn Jr.

In the drawings, the proposed building looks quite a bit like the rest of the campus, albeit with some contemporary touches, such as an angular, winged shape and large, glassy entryways.

County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz called the drawings the first steps in creating a new academic facility “that is innovative and transformational in structure and style, comprehensive and inclusive in its educational components, and integrated into the overall ECC campus plan.”

The new facility will be the most expensive construction project in the college’s history.

College officials count on it to help revitalize the Amherst campus.

The college enrolls about 11,000 students on three campuses.

The STEM building will include two stories and 57,000 square feet – about half the size of an average Home Depot store. It will house science laboratories, classrooms, study spaces, prep rooms, a tutoring center and faculty offices. A small cafe on the first floor near the main entry plaza also is planned.

Because the Amherst campus is more than 50 years old, the county and college had to seek approval from the State Historic Preservation Office for its new building design. County officials said the design was developed to be sensitive to the scale and materials of the existing campus buildings.

The new facility will incorporate the latest construction technology and sustainability features. Construction officials are pursuing a LEED Silver certification, which requires energy-saving design features.

The project has been delayed for years since the state first agreed in 2010 to earmark $15 million and the county $7.5 million, to go along with the college’s share, $7.5 million.

Artists renderings by Kideney Architects were first shown during a public meeting of the ECC board of trustees Aug. 28, but after the meeting, Poloncarz and college officials declined to provide a copy of the renderings. Poloncarz said then that the sketches were preliminary and that college officials should not have shown them.

A 2013 consultant’s study determined that ECC would need 111,000 square feet to satisfy existing and future needs for STEM-related programs. But that amount of space would have cost nearly $59 million.

A 57,000-square-foot building, the report added, would “accommodate the basic spaces ECC needs to advance its new programs and support some of its existing programs, but it will not address all of the existing needs.”

The new STEM building will be constructed to allow for its expansion at a later date, college officials have said.