ECC chooses Sprawl: From David Steele on Buffalorising 7/11/13
Spend 10 minutes of your day reading this. Thank you!
Erie Community College unveiled its long-awaited facilities evaluation report called the space needs analysis and space utilization assessment. It was touted as a tool for determining how and where to spend substantial new capital development money (i.e. where to expand with a new building). College officials hailed the report as proof that their plan to add a new $30,000,000 building to the ECC Amherst Campus was right after all. In good “spread the limited resources around to make everyone happy” style the Report recommends investment and revision of the educational mission for all three college campuses but reserves the biggest investment for the north campus in Amherst. The Report recommends that Amherst remain the biggest and most important campus with the most comprehensive selection of course offerings designed for students planning further academic advancement beyond the 2 year program. The city campus curriculum would be redesigned for those seeking blue-collar style career paths. I guess the assumption is that the dumb old people in the city don’t need no real college or something. I could not find anything in the Report that gave explanations for how this split in course offerings was determined.
The North Campus has long been the campus with the highest enrollment with the city campus bringing up the rear as the smallest. ECC officials continually point to this as a major reason they need to expand the north campus. What they fail to mention is that the North Campus has a higher student population most probably because that is where college administrators have decided to offer the most classes. In my opinion the Report is designed to confirm what officials wanted it to confirm. In my reading I find no objective reasoning which points to the North Campus as the best place for expansion and no where did I read a thorough study of the reasoning for continuing a three campus system. In fact with minimal effort you can list several objective reasons why the North Campus is a horrible place for this campus. For example:
- Almost half of all ECC students live in the City of Buffalo. This alone is reason to concentrate classes in Buffalo.
- 52% of North Campus students come from Buffalo. That is 2,994 buffalo residents to 668 Amherst residents.
- Land costs, which is cheaper? The Report says one big reason for using the North for expansion is that the college already owns the land. This means, they say, that no money need be spent on purchasing new property. This is true, sort of. The college owns huge tracts of mostly empty space at both the north and south campuses. But this empty land is not free. Any simple cost benefit analysis would include a tally of lost real estate tax on that land. It would also include in the ledger a sum for what the land could be sold for. The only way you can compare the true cost of land for a new building on any of the campuses it to compare all of these costs. It is highly likely with a true comparison of all costs of land and facilities the determination would be that expansion in the city is cheaper. This is very basic math, the kind they teach in 100 level business school classes. If this comparison is in the Report I could not find it.
- Transportation? The city campus is the obvious choice if ease of transportation is a criteria for locating facilities. In this case it seems transportation was not an important factor in determining where investment should be concentrated. The City Campus is served by 4 major highway spurs radiating out into the metro. It is also served by 35 bus lines and by Metro Rail. There are 32,000 parking spaces near the campus. Additionally there are nearby dense and attractive neighborhoods within walking distance which cater to all economic levels. It is by far the most accessible campus to the most people in the metro area. The 3 campuses are served by an NFTA run campus bus shuttle but service is sporadic and the round trip between campuses is over 2 hours. A quick use of the NFTA’s online trip planner makes no mention of this shuttle but does guide you to several options from downtown which include multiple transfers and a 1 hour trip minimum each way. Don’t miss that last bus or you are in trouble. You can drive to Amherst of course but then you have to own a car. 30% of buffalo residents do not own a car. Are we saying that low-income Community College students need to own a car to have reasonable access to an education? I did not find any discussion of this in the report. The report did list complaints about the shuttle system often being late.
- Access to jobs: Even after 60 years of decline Downtown Buffalo is still the dominant job hub in the region, with the densest concentration of jobs. In recent years the downtown work force has expanded and will take a huge leap forward as UB adds its medical school and Children’s Hospital moves to the Medical Campus. ECC north and South campuses have minimal to no connection to local job centers. Students already burdened with a 1 hour or more bus ride will be hard pressed to make connections with local employers from the remote and desolate suburban campuses.
College officials originally floated the idea for the new $30,000,000 building at the North Campus to concentrate and expand their offerings of medical services and technician training courses. Many pointed out that these MEDICAL type educational services would be a great complement to the growing concentration of MEDICAL facilities in the the Buffalo Niagara MEDICAL campus in downtown Buffalo and wouldn’t downtown be a more logical place for this new ECC facility for both staff and students? College administrators quickly changed the name of the building eliminating any mention of medicine. The Report uses a new trendy acronym for labeling the proposed building’s use, STEM. This stands for Science, Technology,Engineering, and Math. The Report provides a long list of careers related to these core subjects including chemical technician, aerospace, web developer, physicist, etc. most of which will not be located in the new building. The Report goes on to recommend that the new building to be designed to meet the needs of 10 educational offerings. 8 of these 10 subjects are for MEDICAL related fields! So, the so-called ”STEM” building is going to be primarily for MEDICAL training after all!