$2 million in funding for MNE project released by Gov. Rendell

After nearly a year of review, during which Mercyhurst College sought to illustrate conclusively to state officials the far-reaching benefits of constructing a health and safety building on its North East campus, Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell has issued his stamp of approval and fulfilled the promise of $2 million in commonwealth funding.

In a Sept. 5 letter, the governor stated that the Mercyhurst project meets key criteria for funding, including potential for “1) an immediate impact on economic development; 2) substantial increases in employment; 3) substantial increases in tax revenues; and 4) substantial increases in other measures of economic activity.”

Based on documentation provided by the college’s institutional advancement office, headed by Gary L. Bukowski, and significant community support, Rendell stated, “I am pleased to inform you that the $2 million in redevelopment assistance capital funding released by the prior administration will be continued … I look forward to the completion of your project and am confident that it will enhance the commonwealth’s economic competitiveness.”

Like many projects statewide, funds for the North East project, approved last November by the Schweiker administration, were delayed when the project underwent a subsequent review by the Rendell administration.

“We are delighted that funding has been released by the governor and that work can finally begin on the North East project, which is critical to the needs of the campus and of significant benefit to the economic vitality of our community,” said college President Dr. William P. Garvey.

Garvey projected site work could begin later this fall followed by construction in the spring and completion in late fall 2004. The estimated $5-6 million building will house criminal justice and allied health programs, areas where North East has seen its most dramatic growth, said Mercyhurst North East Dean Dr. Gary Brown.

With an enrollment of 800 students, Mercyhurst North East is operating far beyond its existing capacity of 500 students, and the new building will provide much needed room for expansion to 1,200 students. But satisfying existing needs is only part of what the new building means to the economic future of the region. A new building will bring new programs to the college, and that will mean more jobs at the campus, which already employs close to 100 faculty and staff. In addition, Mercyhurst expects to continue its routine use of Northwest Pennsylvania contractors and suppliers when construction begins, following its pattern of infusing the local economy with much of the cost of the building, such as was done with the $ 7.5 million Audrey Hirt Academic Center on the Erie campus.

As a vital partner with the North East community, Brown added, any growth benefits not only the campus, but also the community. In expanding its health careers curriculum, for instance, Mercyhurst North East hopes to produce qualified workers who can help stem the existing employment crisis in geriatric health care.

Meanwhile, the release of state funding will foster the utilization of other funding sources that were in a holding pattern during the review process, Bukowski noted, enabling work to commence on the estimated $5-$6 million building.

“This has been a long and arduous process but the letter from Governor Rendell opens the floodgate for other sources of funding to now flow for this economic initiative in North East,” Bukowski said.

Other major funding sources include $1 million from the Orris C. Hirtzel and Beatrice Dewey Hirtzel Memorial Foundation, bond issue money of $800,000, and funding from the United States departments of Education and Health and Human Services totaling $600,000.
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