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NCI has funds for building construction; needs more
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New College Institute Executive Director William Wampler (center) talks with local resident Tony Jones (right) during a public hearing Thursday at NCI on a grant application for the new building that the institute plans to build on the Baldwin Block uptown. At left is Joyce French, a consultant working on the project. The city is seeking a $700,000 block grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Friday, March 22, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

It is certain that the New College Institute (NCI) will construct a new building in uptown Martinsville, according to Executive Director William Wampler.

Fundraising efforts continue, but NCI basically has the money it needs for construction, Wampler said Thursday after a public hearing on a Community Development Block Grant being sought to put toward expenses.

New Atlantic Contracting Inc. of Winston-Salem, N.C., recently offered the lowest construction bid at $13,289,000. Dewberry, a Danville architectural firm, is reviewing the bid, but Wampler has said he expects no problems.

The Harvest Foundation has pledged up to $8 million for the project, The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission has pledged $5 million, and the Appalachian Regional Commission has pledged $500,000 for a total of $13.5 million.

But the construction cost does not include expenses to install educational equipment and furnishings in the three-story, roughly 50,000-square-foot building, which will be constructed on the Baldwin Block in uptown Martinsville. That is why more fundraising is needed, Wampler said.

He said he cannot predict how much computers and other equipment, as well as furnishings such as tables and chairs, will cost in 12 to 14 months, which is the expected time frame for construction. Therefore, the project needs all the money it can get, he indicated.

Construction is anticipated to start around April, officials have said.

Donations from companies and individuals are being sought. Wampler would not say exactly how much so far has been raised out of fear that it will affect prices quoted by equipment and furnishings vendors.

The new building will house academic programs that NCI is developing in advanced manufacturing, health care technology and entrepreneurship, as well as administrative offices and space for public events.

“This is a great academic endeavor,” city resident Tony Jones said during the hearing, adding that the academic programs to be based in the building “could change a lot of people’s lives.”

The city should push the state as much as possible to approve the grant, said city resident Alexis Lee, who also spoke during the hearing.

Jones asked what residents can do to show their support for the building.

Joyce French, a consultant working on the project, suggested that residents be “spark plugs” to provide neighbors and other people with information on what NCI hopes to accomplish with the buildings and the programs that it will house.

“The building is important,” Wampler said, “but what’s more important is what goes on inside the building.”

NCI is seeking a $700,000 block grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to use toward developing the second floor, which will be the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The city actually has applied for the money. Under rules for block grants, only localities can apply for them, French said.

Specifically, the money would be used toward classrooms and “support space” such as offices and rest rooms. It cannot be spent on areas where students congregate and vending machines are located, she said.

The estimated cost of developing the second floor is $1,515,540. Officials said that $700,000 is the most block grant funding that can be sought.

Martinsville City Council on Tuesday is expected to adopt a resolution required for the block grant application to be submitted.

If the council adopts the resolution, the application will be submitted to the state on Wednesday, which is the deadline, Wampler said.

Yet “just because the city submits it doesn’t mean we’re going to get” the grant, he emphasized. The process is “very competitive” among localities.

The city and NCI expect to find out in June whether the grant is received, French said.

Academic programs to be based in the building will be designed to prepare students for technology-based jobs of the future. Officials hope that having workers skilled in technology will attract companies to the area.

Even with existing companies, “they can create jobs all day,” French said, “but if they can’t hire (workers) from the Martinsville-Henry County area, we’re just dead in the water” in terms of reducing unemployment rates.

Except for one month, the city has had the highest monthly jobless rates among localities statewide since 2009, she said to her understanding.

Wampler said he senses “more buzz” in the community about the new building now that site preparation work is under way on the Baldwin Block.


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