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Group seeks to turn former North Buffalo church into home for foreign med students

Visiting medical students from Italy will soon be able to call a former North Buffalo synagogue-turned-church as their "home away from home" for a few weeks during the summer, if a consortium of college professors achieves their goal.

Chartered Professors, an educational company led by seven local college professors, wants to convert a Tacoma Avenue building into a hostel-style residence hall that would house the foreign students during stays of up to three weeks in Buffalo. As many as 40 students at a time could live there, while they visit University at Buffalo and area hospitals, meet local doctors and learn about medicine in the United States.

"There are many Italian medical students that would really like a different perspective on anatomy, so they come to the United States to study with us for a couple of weeks," said Marion Pace Olivieri, the company's CEO and a professor of biology and chemistry at D'Youville College. "In Italy, everything is very theoretical. They’d also love to learn about medicine in America."

Olivieri said the two countries' university systems are different, with Italians entering a six-year medical school program right out of high school, instead of first going to a four-year college as in the United States. While they are here, the students work with the company's professors as well as with 75 volunteer doctors.

While University at Buffalo does not accept foreign medical students, many of the Italians want to learn how to get a medical residency in the United States, and UB has been able to help them with that. Olivieri cited one case of a former student who is now working at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"It might be interesting to get some Italian medical doctors to come back to Buffalo," she added. "Many of our medical doctors went to school in Bologna, and those doctors are very, very good at helping us with this program as well."

Chartered Professors, which focuses on filling educational holes through continuing learning, was originally founded to better prepare students as they go into high school or college, or as they move from a two-year to a four-year college.

The company includes seven professors at different area colleges – such as mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists – and hires another 15 to 20 people for its summer conferences.

"Most of us have taught for over 25 years. We find that there’s certain holes in people’s knowledge, particularly in mathematics, probably due to calculators," Olivieri said. "There’s just different things that people don’t have at the front of their brain. If you walk into a calculus class and you can’t exactly remember algebra, you’re going to have trouble."

The company administers a series of tests to point out the "blips," and uses online curricular programs to try to fix those shortcomings before someone starts a new course or puts a scholarship at risk because of bad grades, Olivieri explained.

The company started the "educational tourism" series of summertime conferences more than nine years ago, with the encouragement of former D'Youville President Sister Denise Roche, and in conjunction with the University of Bologna in Italy. Roche wanted the college to become more global in its outreach, but instead of sending local students abroad, the professors wanted to bring foreigners here. So they reached out first to Giovanni Mazzotti, president of the Bologna medical school, for whom the program is now named.

The company offers programs of two and three weeks, to give students options. Last year, more than 115 people participated.

The 15,328-square-foot former Evangelical Christian Church of Buffalo – originally the Ahavas Achim Lubavitz synagogue – is located near the intersection of Tacoma and Colvin avenues, in the heart of North Buffalo. The two-story building was built in 1951, but has been upgraded with new mechanical systems, audio and visual equipment, and other finishes.

Besides housing the foreign students, the company would use the new facility as its base of operations, including for maintaining its computer servers and recording videos for its online courses.

Chartered Professors is in the process of acquiring the building at 351 Tacoma, for about $500,000. The company is working with David Pawlik's CSS Construction on the $75,000 project to convert the space by adding bedrooms and bathrooms, but there's already a commercial kitchen and banquet hall. There's also off-street parking across the street, with 28 spaces.

"The building itself is in great shape, and for what Marion and her group want to do, it’s minimal," Pawlik said. "It’s in a great location, in North Buffalo, with all the activity on Hertel Avenue, and really close to going to downtown, and you’re right near all the universities. That’s one of the prime reasons they chose this location."

Common Councilmember Joel Feroleto praised the project as "a great reuse for a church," noting many other cases of former churches "closing and being vacant eyesores."

The project will be considered by the Common Council for a special-use permit, after being recommended for approval by the Buffalo Planning Board.

In other matters, the Council will also consider special-use permits for:

  • A restaurant at 1345 South Park Ave.
  • A vaping shop, called Cloud9 Smokes & Vapors, in a former computer store at 1567 Hertel Ave.
  • Another vaping store, called Vape Lyfe, at 1175 Hertel Ave.
  • An expanded 21-space parking lot for Collision Masters at 69 Fulton St., adjacent to the auto-repair shop that was recently renovated.
  • A shisha and hookah lounge called Plug Hookah for 20 to 30 people at 2637 Main St., across from the Amherst Street Metro Rail station.

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