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NCI unveils vision for building lobby
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Joyce French, a consultant in efforts to obtain a Community Development Block Grant to be used for the New College Institute, shows sketches of what the lobby could look like inside the new building that the institute plans to construct uptown. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Friday, November 9, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A wall devoted to local history will accentuate lobby areas in a new building that the New College Institute (NCI) plans to construct on the Baldwin Block in uptown Martinsville, preliminary interior design plans show.

NCI Executive Director William Wampler described the wall as “a wedge with angles.” He said it “will be the most prominent feature” students and visitors will see when they enter the building from either of two main entrances.

The block is named after the late local physician/philanthropist Dr. Dana O. Baldwin, who practiced medicine there many years ago when it was a major commercial center for the area’s black residents.

According to NCI officials, the wall is intended to highlight the history of the block — which is along West Church, Fayette, Market and Moss streets — and nearby areas, such as Fayette Street.

Wampler said he envisions one side of the wall having historical photos and the other side having video screens showing aspects of the area’s history.

However, it will be up to the community to decide exactly what aspects of history will be on the wall, he said.

Wampler made his comments during a public hearing Thursday on a $700,000 Community Development Block Grant that the city is seeking on NCI’s behalf to help develop the building. It would be the institute’s first entirely new structure.

Preliminary sketches of the lobby areas, drawn by the Danville architectural and engineering firm Dewberry, were revealed during the hearing. They show the lobby areas with modern architecture and furniture.

Mostly educators and local officials involved in developing the building and NCI curriculums were at the hearing. The few others who attended said they liked what they saw and heard.

Plans are to retrieve bricks and wood from demolished local structures and incorporate them into the building’s construction along with new materials.

Jay Coburn of Bassett said that will make the building look like the mythical “Phoenix rising from the ashes.”

“I am thrilled with the inclusiveness” NCI is showing in trying to incorporate ideas from people throughout the community into the building’s design, said Curtis Millner Sr., chairman of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI).

“This is an example of everyone trying to work together” to improve the community, added Alexis Lee of Martinsville.

People must support the project or “we’re just spinning our wheels,” said Joyce French, a consultant involved in efforts to obtain the block grant.

The three-story, roughly 50,000-square-foot building is expected to cost about $15 million. It is to house academic programs NCI is developing in advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurism and health care technology.

Skills that those programs will teach are not taught in rural Virginia, so “y’all are going to be ahead of the track” in preparing people for jobs of the future, which should lure companies to the area, French told NCI officials.

French indicated she thinks the block grant stands a good chance of being obtained because as state officials like to see, the institute is trying to help people with low-to-moderate incomes acquire skills they need to get better jobs with higher salaries.

Martinsville will have to compete for grant money with other localities, she said.

Block grants are federal money channeled through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and then to localities.

Originally, the $700,000 grant was to have been used toward infrastructure improvements at the Baldwin Block, such as installing new water/sewer lines and relocating other utility lines, Wampler has said.

That has changed following consultation with the DHCD. The money now is targeted to buy equipment for the building and develop the entrepreneurism program, which can help low- to moderate-income students start businesses that can create jobs for themselves and others, according to Wampler.

DHCD officials already are “well aware of your project, understand what is being done and are excited about it,” French said of the building.

Still, the need for the building and the programs to be housed there must be documented thoroughly as part of the grant application process, she said.

The Harvest Foundation plans to provide up to $8 million for the building’s construction. Another $5 million has been allocated by the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. The New College Foundation, NCI’s private fundraising arm, plans to raise $2 million.

Efforts are being made to tap other potential funding sources, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Wampler said money received from such sources might be put toward improving the block’s infrastructure.

The block grant application will be submitted to the state in March.

NCI hopes to have final design plans for the building developed by January, hire a general contractor in February and have construction of the building under way in March, according to Wampler.


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