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Erie County Community College gets $10M grant from Wolf

Matthew Rink Erie Times-News USA TODAY NETWORK

The Erie County Community College has received an early Christmas gift from Gov. Tom Wolf in the form of a $10 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project grant.

The grant money is the first funding allocated by the state to the new community college, which the Pennsylvania Board of Education approved in July. Plans call for the college to begin offering classes in the fall of 2021.

The community college was the largest project in Erie County to receive RACP funding. Nine other projects received a combined $13.5 million, of which $3 million was previously pledged.

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The community college money will be used for capital costs, including the “acquisition, construction, renovation of property and buildings where classes would be held, as well as the machinery and equipment necessary for the operation of the college and education of students.”

“That’s great, it’s great,” said Ron DiNicola, the chairman of the community college’s board of trustees, upon hearing that the funding had been awarded. “I see it as a powerful indicator of the governor’s commitment to workforce development in Pennsylvania and his confidence in Erie County’s initiative to establish this college.”

DiNicola said he was finalizing the college’s request to the state for operating funds when he learned about the RACP award. Wolf is likely to put out his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year sometime in February. He indicated in October 2019 that the state would fund a 15th community college.

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper learned that the funding had come through around 3 p.m. Wednesday when she received a call from a member of Wolf’s staff. Wolf, she said, had told her prior to the state Board of Education approving the county’s request for a community college that he would provide extra funding through RACP.

“I’m obviously very grateful we have this funding and I’m just glad that the governor came through on his promise to me,” Dahlkemper said. “This is huge. This is money that’s going to allow for the eventual location of the community college to be purchased and for work to be done on that physical plant. It really helps make it a true reality for the Erie County community.”

The RACP funding was first included in the state budget in 2007 but like the county’s long-discussed plans for a community college, it sat idle. Erie County Council along with Dahlkemper agreed in 2017 to be the financial sponsor of the college and sent its proposal to the state for consideration.

The county will use its share of casino gaming revenue for the local funding requirement of the college. State funding and tuition and fees will also be primary sources of funding.

The projected budget submitted to the state Board of Education anticipated that a permanent facility would be established in the seventh year of the community college. The RACP funding was not included in those projections, meaning that it’s likely that a permanent home could be established much earlier than originally planned.

The college’s nine-member board recently established a committee to explore possible locations for the college. Though the funding can be used to buy property and build a new structure or renovate an existing one, it also can be used to purchase equipment that would be used by students.

“This is fantastic news for the people of Erie County,” Erie County Councilman Carl Anderson said. “Gov. Wolf really came through with his unwavering support for community college education and workforce development. And this puts Erie County’s Community College on a fast-tracked trajectory to get off the ground to a successful start. This will change the lives of young people in our community for generations to come.”

The Erie County Community College wasn’t the only project to receive the Redevelopment Capital Assistance grant funding Wednesday. Also included in the first round of funding were the following projects:

h Erie Events, UPMC Park clubhouse upgrades, $1.5 million.

The Erie Seawolves team clubhouse will be renovated and expanded to meet Major League Baseball standards. The clubhouse is located inside Erie Insurance Arena, which is attached to UPMC Park.

h Erie Events, UPMC Park, Phase III renovation, $3 million.

This funding is part of $12 million originally awarded in 2018. The state provided $3 million for four years for the project. The project includes significant renovations to nearly all areas of the park.

h Erie Events, Bayfront Place Market House Expansion II, $1 million.

Erie Events plans to construct a 22,000 square-foot market house and surface parking area along the west bayfront. The indoor market would operate year-round and feature a full-service grocery store as well as local vendors. Erie Events had requested $3.5 million for the project.

h Berry Global Group, warehouse and distribution facility, $2 million.

The city of Erie-based company plans to build a 90,000 square-foot steel and masonry warehouse and distribution facility in the 1500 block of Myrtle Street.

h Erie Center for Arts & Technology, Wayne campus improvement project, $500,000.

The project will provide fully finished office and lab space to the newly created UPMC Jameson School of Nursing at UPMC Hamot on the second and third floors of the former Wayne Elementary School, 650 East Ave. ECAT, which purchased the building in 2019, began to renovate the building in August. ECAT had requested $751,675.

h Erie Zoo otter exhibit, $500,000.

According to the Erie Zoological Society’s request, the project will create a new state-of-the-art home for the zoo’s North American river otters, as well as new off-exhibit housing for the animals. There will be a large outdoor viewing area with a water feature. The zoo had asked for $1.5 million.

h Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority, Liberty Park expansion project, $2.5 million.

Liberty Park will be expanded to the area now occupied by boat storage by developing it with commercial venues, a grand entrance, an esplanade, a new playground, splash pad and picnic shelters. The project will include the installation of sanitary sewer, potable water, natural gas and electric utilities to the entire 12-acre site. The Port Authority had requested more than $4 million.

h Mercyhurst University, athletic and academic facilities renovation project, $2 million.

Mercyhurst University plans to significantly renovate the athletic center that is home to four indoor varsity sports. Playing surfaces, lighting, support spaces, and spectator viewing areas will be improved, as well as three classrooms used by the athletic training and sports medicine programs.

h City of Corry, regional firehouse project, $500,000.

The former Corry Public Works facility will be renovated for a new fire station. Work includes building out living quarters for firefighters. The city of Corry had requested $1.25 million.

Contact Matthew Rink at mrink@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ETNrink.

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