ECC: Reduce and Solve the Obvious Problem

I’m a big believer that problems and issues should, whenever possible, be boiled down and distilled to their simplest and most concentrated form. 

So, when we’re talking about the multimillion-dollar investment in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program at Erie Community College’s North Campus (in Williamsville, at Main and Youngs), I have a threshold question about the seriousness and sincerity of the people agitating to halt it, and move the whole lot downtown.  

So, distillation time. 

1. It’s not an argument about the quality of education.  Not one person is saying that building STEM in Williamsville, or expanding the North Campus is going to have a harmful effect on education at any of the three ECC campuses. 

2. It’s not an argument about whether we need STEM or not.  Everyone agrees that it’s a swell idea. 

3. It’s not an argument about the North Campus being somehow inadequate to handle the program. 

4. It’s not an argument about the North Campus not needing improvements.

Every single argument has to do with location, location, location.  They want the entire campus to be in downtown Buffalo.  

The statistics, taking the opponents’ word for it, show that about 47% of ECC students live in the City of Buffalo, and that only about 25% of ECC enrollees attend classes downtown.  The “move it downtown” people argue that it is much more convenient for city kids to attend STEM-hosted programs at a downtown location, because of the better public transportation connections. 

Over My Dead Body” is a wildly disproportionate reaction to an ECC plan to expand its northern campus to accommodate a multimillion dollar health and medical training center. A group of people with dubious connections to ECC itself, called “Young Citizens for ECC”, was created specifically to oppose any expansion in the ECC suburban campuses, and to concentrate all spending and programs in a consolidated downtown campus. 

There are some good points to be discussed regarding bringing health training downtown, near the medical campus. Well, sort of near the medical campus – more specifically, across downtown from the medical campus. But one of the things I always like to address is hyperbole and needless falsehoods in advocacy

Young Citizens for ECC wants to same thing Erie Community College does. We want to link our region’s young people with emerging fields in the health sciences and prepare Buffalo for a 21st-century economy. We can’t do that by making educational opportunities inaccessible, especially to people who depend on public transit. ECC needs to focus on creating stronger linkages to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which we believe will help re-brand the college, attract top talent, and prepare our region for the jobs of tomorrow.

Inaccessible. 

Not satisfied with that ridiculous charge, at least one opponent of an expansion of the North Campus refers to it as “remote”. Located between Main and Wehrle, near Youngs in Williamsville; close to the extremely busy Main & Transit corridor, it might be many things, but “remote” is not one of them. ECC North is about 13 miles from downtown Buffalo; take Metro Rail out to UB South, and then the 48 Bus directly to ECC North. It takes about an hour to commute there from downtown via public transportation, but it’s completely within reason. Of course, ECC doesn’t just accommodate students from Buffalo’s neighborhoods, but also students from throughout western New York, including neighboring counties. 

Note that Niagara County Community College isn’t in Lockport, North Tonawanda, or Niagara Falls, but sort of in the middle of nowhere.  And it draws in kids from Erie County’s northtowns – for every Erie County kid who attends NCCC, Erie County has to pay Niagara County, and vice-versa. 

The ECC Board of Trustees has pointed out that the ECC City campus is the most costly and least efficient to operate. This should be taken into account, considering the public nature of the college. 

The college didn’t pick Williamsville for its expansion to stick it to the city. According to Business First, the choice was made after an extensive (and expensive) review undertaken by a consultant retained by ECC for this project. (Here is the study itself)

Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe said other efforts endorsed by County Executive Mark Poloncarz, including the manufacturing institute championed by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, are based in Buffalo.

“A lot is going on in the City of Buffalo, including a lot of money that the county spent on ECC in recent years,” Tobe said. “We intend to continue to upgrade the city campus along with improvements to the other two campuses.”

He said the county received a letter from critics of the Amherst campus plan and is responding to it.

ECC President Jack Quinn said the college will take part in the debate going forward but won’t be swayed from the current focus.

“We’re very comfortable with the JMZ study,” he said. “It was deliberate, objective and expensive. As far as reconsidering any major themes? Probably not.”

And wouldn’t part of the equation include: where are ECC’s students enrolled? 

The consultant, JMZ Architects and Planners, has come back with a recommendation to build on the North Campus, based on several factors, including the availability of land and parking; the need to improve the condition of the aging campus; and the fact that North has the highest enrollment of the three ECC campuses.

“This should put to bed the question, ‘Where’s the best location,’ ” Poloncarz said Tuesday.

So, at this point you’re yelling at me – so what? Just because they’re enrolled at North doesn’t mean they want to be there! Plus, 47% of enrollees live in the city! Well, the problem is that ECC North is plagued with a dreary campus, made up of a cluster of buildings reminiscent of 70s-era DMVs. Kids haven’t been flocking to ECC’s gorgeous adaptive reuse of an old downtown post office, but instead they’ve gone to Niagara County

The college first raised the issue of a new building around 2010 and set its sights on the North Campus at Main Street and Youngs Road, which consists of eight buildings constructed in phases between 1953 and the late 1960s.

The college hoped updating the unattractive North Campus would help stem the number of Erie County residents going across the border to attend school at Niagara County Community College.

When that happens, public and private money gets spent in rural Sanborn, to Erie County’s detriment. 

Part of the problem is that this is an ideological battle, rather than a practical one. When the Common Council debated the matter, ECC and the County Executive were not invited to speak on the issue. Living within a bubble of confirmation bias doesn’t always lead to good results. If a discussion is to be had, inflammatory rhetoric and exclusion aren’t the way to go. This past week, rookie county legislator Pat Burke, who represents Cheektowaga and South Buffalo, tried to put the brakes on the STEM expansion in Williamsville.  He was unsuccessful, as the GOP majority, led by Amherst legislator Tom Loughran, blocked debate on the question. 

When in doubt, accuse ECC and the county of racism, but you’re frankly not going to win an argument by calling your opponents names or by shutting them out.  

So, when we finally distill the issue down to its essence, the issue is location and transportation.  Kids in Buffalo – not just ones downtown, but on the east side, west side, North Buffalo – need better access to the various ECC campuses. Kids in the suburbs do, too. So, what is the easiest, least costly, quickest fix to all of this? 

Better dedicated shuttle buses. 

The shuttle buses that the NFTA runs between campuses are unreliable. They don’t run at convenient times. They’re infrequent. They don’t run late enough. 

So, get the NFTA out of the equation and either run or outsource a better system. Get a fleet out on the road to serve all three campuses plus the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Have some buses stop in the Buffalo neighborhoods that need them most. Run them all the time, and run them late. Give kids a mobile application to use to track the bus locations and times. Run one line between the STEM building and the medical campus on a continuous loop. 

These aren’t expensive or Earth-shattering fixes for a pretty minor problem.  This isn’t a group of kids coming in from outside WNY to live in dorms and hang out in coffee bars; they’re commuters.  They likely have jobs and families here.  Recognizing that not all of these students have cars or gas money, give them a better transportation network, and everybody wins. 

29 comments

  • As a former graduate of ECC and then on to UB I can tell you that there is no way I would have attended ECC if it meant commuting downtown. I believe that this is one item that that escapes of the anti suburban pundits. Many suburbanites do not want to deal with the endless issues that arise when dealing with city life (to many to list so I wont bother going there). The ride up to NCCC is much longer than the ride downtown but many are willing to travel to Niagara County regardless….doesn’t take a genius to figure out why….

    • As another former ECC graduate, I second this. I also lived in the Lower West Side, worked in Blasdell, and attended most of my classes North. I loathed my downtown classes for a multitude of reasons. The downtown building is nice and all, but the area isn’t what I would call ‘education friendly.’ North provided the best opportunity to learn, hands down — be it with the combination of facilities, educators who wanted to teach, and students who wanted to learn.

      • What is meant by “education friendly”? Usually when people use quotations they are suggesting a,wink wink, you know what I mean, kind of thing. Can you tell me in a clearer way what you actually mean?

        • Gladly. The students at North tended to give a shit about classes and not hang out in the atrium of wherever the most students congregated. There aren’t many places at North that cater to that sort of mentality, therefore going to classes is generally the point of being on campus. At City, the hallways are packed with students who are loud and disruptive to classes.
          In no way did I mean the comment to have a ‘wink, wink’ connotation. It may be possible to read into what I’m saying, but unless something about the culture of City has changed, it is simply how it is. I had a better educational experience with my courses at North over City. I don’t imagine anyone else who had to take classes at both campuses would have a different opinion.

    • The endless issues dealing with city life? That’s priceless and very small-minded. The only issue I had when attending City Campus was the greater class offering at North Campus. That is probably why a disproportionate share of North’s students are from the city.

      • One needs only look at the declining population in the city to validate my opinion on city life Mike.

        • You’re entitled to your opinion, but you haven’t substantiated it in any way.

          • Crime, parking issues (ie. lack of and having to pay for), lousy street maintenance, panhandlers, …………………..all of which I got to experience first hand after I graduated and went to work for a company located downtown

          • Lol. I went to Alfred State. They sold parking permits to anyone who would pay up. They sold more than twice as many as they had student parking spots. I had a permit. I almost never found a legal parking space.

          • You are correct, the traffic congestion, parking , snow plowing all suck in the city. The argument about location makes no sense to me. Of course if you live in South Buffalo Amherst is a trek. However people live near that campus as well. And they work at Eastern Hills Mall as much as McKinley. Btw anybody who knows anything does not travel on Main St. You take Wherle which is never crowded except for when Ingram Micro lets out.

        • Symptoms aren’t causes and where you make your home in the metro area isn’t/shouldn’t have the same ramifications as commuting for work or school.

      • If you are accustomed to open space, ample parking, well maintained roads then issues with city life are real. Give the guy a break.

    • I would like it if you shared at least some of those endless issues. I do understand your concern though. As a city resident, I hate that I am forced to deal with so many of the endless negative issues caused by people who demand to live in sprawling remote places.

      • You can hardly call Amherst “remote” as it borders on a city line…..

        • Yes, all of Amherst and the rest of Erie County is directly adjacent to the Buffalo city line and none of it is built in a sprawly care dependent way. You are right.

    • I can see how you feel that way because your an old coot like myself. Back (way back) in our day students attending a community college tended to live at home with mommy and daddy.
      Today most community college students want and do live away from home, many even live in community college dormitories, something that was unthinkable for a community college to provide in our day.

  • Amherst already has a bus service in place for seniors. Couldn’t that be expanded or tweaked to accommodate runs to the north campus? For that matter there are all kinds of shuttles running around with one or two people on board. One would think the operators would welcome the extra income if a schedule could be worked out.

  • Main Street in Williamsville as well as the Main Street & I-90 interchanges of I-290 are some of the most stressed pieces of infrastructure in upstate New York. Why are we investing additional public money to put additional strain on this infrastructure. At some point we are going to be forced to spend additional dollars to expand that infrastructure because we continue to overtax it. This is a bad public development decision. We have another campus with better access, underutilized infrastructure and close proximity to the largest medical conglomerate in upstate. It all points to a incredulous waste of public dollars.

    And this isn’t a city-vs-suburbs thing. Maybe to some people it is, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be. One thing folks don’t realize is that our Federal Highway Trust fund is 6 months away from being completely bankrupt. There is no longer the money to keep expanding infrastructure like we have in the past. At some point we need to get smarter and realize that we need to start better utilizing the existing infrastructure we already have. To spend public money on a major project in a location that will only worsen existing infrastructure problems is beyond stupid. A perfect example of how NOT to think regionally.

    It is a bad decision.

  • The transportation structure is already in place to bring commuters downtown from everywhere in the region. If ECC is to expand, it should do so downtown, which is the designed center of the region’s transportation system. Just because it is possible to get to ECC North by public transportation in an hour, doesn’t mean it should be done. How long does it take a student to get to ECC North for STEM classes if they live in Hamburg and do not have a car?

    Do hour long commutes for city residents to school significantly impact their ability to work? Especially when the odds are good that they work in the suburbs. If you live in South
    Buffalo, work part time at the McKinley Mall and have to go to ECC North, how tenable a situation is that? If you live on the East Side and work at the Galleria and attend ECC North, how tenable is that? How much of your day should you have to sit on a bus, 3, 4 hours?

    If we want to break the cycle of poverty then we have to make it easier for the poor to attend school and get jobs. When the schools and jobs are all a significant bus ride away (and often a long walk from home to the bus stop) then we make it substantially harder to break that cycle.

    • Just because it is possible to get to ECC North by public transportation in an hour, doesn’t mean it should be done. … Do hour long commutes for city residents to school significantly impact their ability to work? How much of your day should you have to sit on a bus, 3, 4 hours?

      Regarding the hour each way:

      If an express bus were established using the 33 expressway it could be be less than 20 minutes each way to or from ECC North compared to where ECC downtown is. Although an hour is roughly how long it takes using Metro Rail and NFTA 48 bus, an express bus via the 33 would need only 18 minutes (for 12.4 miles) between ECC North to or from ECC City downtown.

      That’s according to a Google Maps time estimate here http://goo.gl/maps/WLIN5

      Even if both directions are at heavy traffic times, it would still be around an hour total for both ways – not each way. Time on a bus need not be wasted academically either: textbooks can be read and such.

      • Even if both directions are at heavy traffic times, it would still be around an hour total for both ways – not each way.

        Time on a bus need not be wasted academically either. Textbooks can be read and such.

  • How sad that that this issue becomes yet another battle over the ridiculous political divide that separates the three parties which fight over WNY crumbs. And of course, Alan, you are firmly ensconced in the position of the divide which you occupy. Hooray to be you I guess.

    Here in WNY we lament that boneheaded epic planning decisions that were made a generation ago and ask what could the leaders back in the day been thinking. I will tell you this – that same question will be asked 50 years from now if this investment is made in a decaying crumbling campus that would better be bulldozed and the land sold off to private developers and put on the tax rolls.

  • Apparently expensive consultants know better than citizens where we should put part of our community college.

  • Let’s distill the whole thing a bit more concerning the remote thing,
    Students tend to not have an abundance of excess money.
    Students looking to attend a community college as opposed to a SUNY or other four year college tend to have even less money.
    Students originating from the City of Buffalo tend to have even less money than students originating from the burbs.
    So distill this: How remote does the North Campus become if mommy and daddy or the students themselves can not afford a car, insurance and all that? Remote as compared to downtown?
    If the student requires housing where would said student get the most cost friendly deal? Dormatory housing, housing available in Amherst or housing available in Buffalo?
    And do tell us more about all the justification of UB to move its medical school downtown as opposed to keeping it at the main street campus which is even closer to downtown than the ECC North Campus?
    And, if ECC is actually looking to attract more students where do you suppose those students would be more attracted to attend ECC. Downtown or Amherst?

  • To be clear the NFTA does NOT operate the shuttles as referenced above.

  • The percent of kids going to EEC who live in the city is not something stated by opponents, that we need to “assume” is correct. This is a figure provided by ECC.

    There is no study that I am aware of that shows why some students choose NCC over ECC. Do you know of one? You seem to be stating this as undeniable fact here. Should we base campus spending on stuff people just say, which then gets reported as fact by people like you?

    The three campus system does already run a shuttle system between campuses for student convenience but this system does not serve the various neighborhoods and towns where students live. Based on information in the ECC report and in other media this system is considered too infrequent and not workable for typical class and employment schedules. Is your concept, as presented here, to to fix the problem of 3 remotely located campuses by doubling down on spending additional money on a limited intra campus shuttle system? What if you had one campus with no shuttle at all instead?

    There is no study that shows that the Amherst Campus is larger than the others for any reason other than this is where the administration chooses to locate most of its course offerings. It should not be used as proof that it is the most viable campus for expansion.

    Land is available for parking and expansion at the Amherst Campus and as such no land needs to be purchased making the north campus more financial viable. That is another of the specious reasons for selecting the North campus. Reading through the ECC report I found no comprehensive comparison of campus costs of the type the most basic business 101 course would teach. The fact that the county owns the land is not the source of all costs involved. What about lost tax revenue due to the giant empty grassy fields and parking lots owned by the public? How much could they sell the land for, how much does it cost to maintain those parking lots and lawns, how much real estate taxes could they collect from that land if it was private? How much is that new super shuttle system going to cost. How many students will no longer attend because they don’t have a car or can’t get to class fast enough after their job shift ends? There is that little matter that the county already owns land for expansion downtown as well. But hush, let’s not talk about that too much.

    • but this system does not serve the various neighborhoods and towns where students live

      However, since presumably those students do have ways to reach where ECC Downtown is from various neighborhoods and towns, then an improved shuttle system of say 20-minute bus rides via 33 between ECC’s Downtown and North campuses – perhaps more frequent or at better times than the current shuttle – really be a terrible extra burden? How so?

  • If for no other reason ECC should expand downtown just to offer the chance for more young suburbanites and maybe their parents to experience all the city has to offer. Many have a false perception perpetuated by lack of real experience and negative hearsay. Others are fearful due to exaggerated urban legends and sensationalized news reports that cast the entire city as violent and dangerous. There is also an undercurrent of some good old fashioned racism and hating of the less fortunate. Finally there are “the city is dirty”, “the city is run down”,and so on. All these issues cloud this debate more than some would like to admit.

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