A $30 million mistake

Proposed new facility at ECC's Amherst campus is overambitious and unnecessary

Despite an already strained budget and campuses in desperate need of upkeep and renovation, Erie Community College (ECC) is planning to spend millions on an unprecedented – and unnecessary – academic facility.

The building would be unparalleled for the community college in terms of the construction cost of $30 million.

But breaking ground on a new project – a proposed 55,000-square-foot building that would be built on ECC’s Amherst campus – is nothing short of frivolous when existing issues on ECC’s campuses aren’t being addressed.

ECC, which is the fourth largest community college in the state and part of the SUNY system, currently has three campuses. Not unlike UB, the college has a campus downtown, along with locations in Amherst and Orchard Park.

The multi-campus arrangement for ECC has long been a contentious issue, as the college strives to attract Erie County students and lure them away from other counties’ community colleges.

Their wooing is understandable: as students from Erie attend community colleges in other areas, local municipalities are charged millions of dollars in “charge-back” fees. Last year, the costs totaled a staggering $4.4 million to communities in Erie, as 1,834 students from the county attended other community colleges.

So ECC faces a legitimate, pressing need to increase – or at the very least maintain – their enrollment numbers.

But nonetheless, a shiny new building, while enticing, is not the most promising, or sensible, solution.

Novelty is always appealing, but function is more important. If ECC can scrape together $30 million for a new building, then it could easily redirect those funds – or at least some of them – to more worthwhile causes.

While proponents of the project argue that the new facility would be essential to jumpstarting the renovations to the Amherst campus that undeniably requires regeneration.

But that argument falls flat – renovations don’t require large-scale construction as an accompaniment.

And equally problematic is that the Amherst campus could become irrelevant in upcoming years, as the debate over the merits of establishing a centralized campus versus maintaining three branches continues.

A state-of-art campus located in the bustling downtown corridor of Buffalo is certainly an intriguing prospect.

But ultimately, it’s even more ambitious than the current, unrealistic proposition of a single new building – though a centralized downtown campus would be even more effective at drawing in new students.

The current system remains en vogue for now – building a central campus would cost $350 million and ECC’s President and Board Chairman strongly disapprove of the idea, but there’s no guarantee regarding the future of Amherst’s campus.

Improving the current conditions at ECC’s three campuses in order to ensure that students attending the college right now can pursue their educations in classrooms that are functional and up to date.

Basic renovations are more necessary, more obtainable, and much cheaper than ECC’s current plan. There’s every reason to focus on upgrades and far fewer justifications for breaking new ground.

Building a $30 million facility is over-the-top, but when it’s being constructed in an area with an uncertain future, that’s simply shortsighted.

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