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NCI gets $1.75M federal grant
To fund new building on Baldwin Block

Sunday, March 31, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The New College Institute (NCI) on Friday received a $1.75 million federal grant to use toward the construction of a new building in uptown Martinsville.

The three-story, roughly 50,000-square-foot building, to be erected on the Dana O. Baldwin Block, will have administrative offices and public event space. However, its main purpose will be to house new programs that NCI is developing in advanced manufacturing, health care technology and entrepreneurism.

“I look forward to seeing its impact on folks seeking training in” those fields, said 9th District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, who worked with other federal lawmakers from the area to secure the grant.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, said manufacturing, health care and “the entrepreneurial spirit of our small business owners and family farmers are the engine of our Southside economy.”

“I am pleased to know that the New College Institute’s expansion will help continue to prepare our communities to excel in these fields,” Hurt said.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant includes funds for the new building’s construction and the purchase of state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing equipment.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he is “extremely pleased” that the EDA has “dedicated significant resources to important construction” at the institute.

Both he and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., as former governors, were heavily involved in initial efforts to establish NCI, which opened in 2006.

“I am consistently impressed with the education NCI is providing” the region, said Kaine, who visited the institute in February. “I am proud to have been a part of the team that founded this unique institution, and I remain committed to supporting necessary funding to foster its growth.”

Warner said he has “always been a firm believer in the potentially life-changing educational opportunities that NCI can offer to residents of Martinsville, Henry County and the entire region.”

“I look forward to a very, very bright future for NCI,” he added.

Other contributions that NCI is receiving toward the building project include up to $8 million from The Harvest Foundation, $5 million from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

NCI has applied to the state for a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant to use toward the construction of the building’s second floor, which will be the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The lowest construction bid, which is being reviewed to ensure it reflects all of the institute’s needs for the building, was $13,289,000.

With the EDA grant, the institute has as much as $15.2 million to use toward the project. However, a private $2 million fundraising campaign continues. Officials have not disclosed how much has been raised.

NCI Executive Director William Wampler said the institute needs to raise as much money as it can because the total project cost is not yet known.

That cost includes construction, equipment and furniture as well as ongoing site preparation at the Baldwin Block, architectural and engineering costs and a contingency budget to handle any unexpected problems that arise, he said.

The actual total cost probably will not be known until after construction of the building is under way, Wampler added.

But “the timing of this grant places the New College in the financial position to have construction move forward in the very near future,” he said.

Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in April and take about a year to complete, officials have said.

NCI is designing the advanced manufacturing program to prepare students for jobs with companies such as RTI International Metals and Commonwealth Laminating that use high-tech production equipment. To run the equipment and make products, employees must be skilled in technology, engineering and/or science, according to institute and company officials.

The program is being designed so students can go to NCI to learn skills and earn credentials they need to get entry-level jobs with such companies, then return to the institute as they are able to earn other degrees and credentials they will need to advance in their careers.

NCI expects to attract advanced manufacturing students from area school systems, Patrick Henry Community College and local industries, according to Associate Director/Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins.

“They will have opportunities to learn from world-class faculty about the software and processes that make the advanced manufacturing technology relevant to regional businesses,” she said.

Equipment that NCI plans to buy for its advanced manufacturing program includes robotics, three dimensional measuring equipment and an industrial autoclave, which is used to make parts and materials requiring exposure to high temperatures and pressure levels.

But the centerpiece of the equipment, Wampler indicated, will be a five-axis cutting machine used in computer-aided design and manufacturing processes for products such as high-tech optical, medical and aerospace equipment.

He said the machine is the latest technology and “the most advanced piece of equipment in today’s generation” of manufacturing.

NCI has estimated the total cost of the advanced manufacturing equipment it plans to buy at $1,580,000. The autoclave is the most expensive item at $500,000, followed by the five-axis cutter at $400,000, a price list shows.

Buying the equipment “is not like going to Office Depot,” Wampler chuckled. He noted that the procurement process is “very complicated.”

At NCI, he said, students will “be exposed to some of the newest advanced manufacturing equipment in the world.”

That will help them get jobs with existing local high-tech companies as well as help attract such companies to Martinsville-Henry County, he added.


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