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NCI seeks $2.9M in grants to support new building
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The New College Institute (NCI) hopes to get at least $2.9 million in grants to help develop its new building planned for uptown Martinsville.
New academic programs that NCI is developing in advanced manufacturing, health care and entrepreneurism are to be based in the three-story, 50,000-square-foot building to be built on the Dana O. Baldwin Block. It is to be the institute’s first entirely new structure.
A groundbreaking ceremony tentatively is set for noon Nov. 1.
During a public meeting on the project Monday at NCI, it was revealed that the institute aims to seek a $700,000 Community Development Block Grant through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development.
That money would be used toward grading at the vacant block along West Church, Market, Fayette and Moss streets, plus other infrastructure work such as installing new water and sewer lines and relocating other utility lines, according to NCI Executive Director William Wampler.
Under rules for block grants, the city will apply for the money on behalf of NCI. The application will be submitted early in 2013, and officials should learn in the spring whether the grant will be awarded to the city, Wampler said.
NCI already has applied to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for $1.7 million that is to be used to develop space for advanced manufacturing training and buy equipment, he said.
Also, the institute aims to seek $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to put toward developing learning spaces and courses for the advanced manufacturing program, he added.
The building is expected to cost about $15 million. The Harvest Foundation plans to contribute up to $8 million, and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission has allocated $5 million. The New College Foundation, NCI’s private fundraising arm, aims to raise $2 million.
Wampler was uncertain on how the grants being sought will fit into the equation. However, he said as an example that not as much money may be needed from Harvest if some of the grant money is received.
An official public hearing, required by the state to be considered for the block grant, likely will be held Nov. 8 at NCI, said Susan McCulloch, a planner for the city.
A needs assessment also must be done. Local employers will be surveyed to find out, for example, what jobs they expect to have available in three years and what training must be available in the community to help people do the jobs, according to Joyce French, a consultant working with NCI and the city on the block grant application.
McCulloch said the application “must show it (the NCI project) will benefit low- to moderate-income persons” through efforts to better educate them and help them get jobs.
To determine if it will benefit them, she said, surveys will be distributed to students at NCI and Patrick Henry Community College as well as to workers through entities such as the Virginia Employment Commission and the West Piedmont Workforce Investment Board.
Wampler said he understands the building’s construction has a potential to create up to 200 temporary jobs.
The Rev. Tyler Millner of Axton said he foresees “no black business actually reaping” any benefits. Lisa Fultz of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. said the organization will try to get minorities involved.
“It’s time to do away with the black and white” issue, said Mervyn King of Martinsville, who has developed properties uptown, including some for NCI. Jobs — construction or otherwise — should go “to the person who can do the job” without consideration of a person’s race.
According to Wampler, parts of the new NCI building are to have advanced manufacturing bays with ceilings 30 feet high to accommodate technology and a boom crane that can move large materials.
It also is to have a “five-axis cutting machine” that can rotate metal on five different axes so it can be cut in five different places, he said.
That should set the institute apart from other higher education institutions statewide, NCI officials said.
Some have three-axis cutting machines and one has a five-axis machine that can cut wood but not metal. NCI apparently would be the only Virginia school with a five-axis metal cutter, which is the latest technology, they said.
Metal is the material that NCI is focusing on due to RTI International Metals’ presence in Henry County and because most wood furniture manufacturers that used to operate in the area have closed their local plants.
In terms of colleges and universities helping their communities attract new industries, “this ... will separate us from the rest of the gang,” Wampler said.
French said few five-axis cutting machines exist nationwide.
The building is to have a fabrication laboratory — or “fab lab” — that area residents can use to make designs and prototypes for inventions; a grand hall for community events; and other features.
Overall, the building is to be “a very functional showplace” for the community, French said.