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Giambra: "There Will Be a Lawsuit" Over ECC North Building

That’s the promise made by former Erie County executive Joel Giambra, who has been at the fore of the opposition to a plan by Erie Community College to locate a new $30 million facility that will house health sciences programs at the ECC North Campus rather than in downtown Buffalo, close to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

Giambra made the promise on Tuesday afternoon, at a meeting of the Buffalo Common Council’s Economic Development Committee, chaired by North District Councilman Joe Golombek. Golombek and his colleagues all believe that the building—which will be paid for half by the state, and a quarter each by the county and ECC—should be sited downtown. So did everyone in the audience, all 40 or so, 10 of whom spoke for the record against ECC’s decision. (One of these was Republican mayoral candidate Sergio Rodriguez.) There were no representatives from ECC or from the office of Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who surprised many when he recently came out in support of the position taken by his predecessor, Chris Collins, that a new health sciences facility would be best located in Amherst.

When Collins and ECC awarded the design contract for the new building to Kideney Architects back in 2010, we reported that the contract was at least in part a lagniappe offered to the Erie County Conservative Party: One of the principals in Kideney Architects is Tom Jaeger, who is on the 35-member executive committee of the Erie County Conservative Party, and Collins coveted the Conservative Party’s endorsement that fall for himself and for others.

But why locate the building in Amherst, when the regional focus on health sciences is in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo? Kideney can design a building anywhere. There are as many real estate and business interests to please downtown as there are in Amherst. Giambra professed bewilderment at the motive, but dismissed the idea that improvements to ECC North would stop the flow of Northtowns students to Nigara County Community College. Kids go to NCCC, he said, because it’s cheaper and all their classes are available under one roof. ECC’s tuition is higher partly because it has to pay to maintain three campuses, and students have to drive or take buses from one campus to another to fulfill their requirements. It was an absurd arrangement when he was county executive and pushed for ECC to consolidate downtown, he said, and it remains absurd.

Giambra said that the promised lawsuit would argue that siting the new building in Amherst violates the state’s anti-sprawl legislation and marginales poor, inner-city students who seldom have access to cars. The same students, said Giambra, that community colleges like ECC were created to serve.

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