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$700K block grant to fund NCI
City sought grant for second floor of new building

Sunday, June 23, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin staff writer

Martinsville on Friday was awarded $700,000 in state funds toward the construction of the New College Institute (NCI) building under way on the Baldwin Block uptown.

Gov. Bob McDonnell announced the Community Development Block Grant, which brings the total amount of money so far received or pledged for the building’s construction to nearly $17 million.

The grant specifically will be used toward the construction of the building’s second floor, which will be NCI’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Under rules for block grants, the city had to apply for the money on behalf of the institute, and $700,000 was the most that could be received for the project, said NCI Executive Director William Wampler.

He called Friday “a very important day” as far as the construction budget is concerned because “there was no guarantee” the grant would be received.

Block grant applications are “very competitive” among localities, Wampler said.

The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is to be a partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University. It will be modeled on the university’s da Vinci Center for Innovation, said NCI Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins.

At the center, Blevins said, students will work in teams on projects based on innovation and entrepreneurism opportunities, including ideas for products.

Innovation and teamwork are important because that is what most modern industries focus on, she said.

“These are skills that employers tell us they want” their employees to have, Blevins said.

Furthermore, “we want them (students) to learn how to work with a variety of people” with different personalities to prepare them for what to expect in the work place, she said.

Entrepreneurism is important to foster ideas for new businesses that could expand, providing more and more jobs for area residents, she added.

Initially, NCI plans to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into its Academy for Engineering and Technology, but it aims to eventually expand those components to include all of its educational programs, Blevins said.

The three-story, roughly 50,000-square-foot building also will be home to educational programs that NCI is developing in advanced manufacturing and health care technology. It also will contain offices and public event space.

It will be the first building constructed specifically for the institute.

Other funds being provided toward the building’s construction, Wampler noted, include:

• Up to $8 million from The Harvest Foundation

• $5 million from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission

• $1.75 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

• $750,000 from a state appropriations act.

• $100,000 from Commonwealth Laminating & Coating Inc., and

• $500,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Wampler said that money is “not yet under contract, but we’re very comfortable those dollars will flow” down to the institute eventually.

Altogether, NCI has received or been pledged roughly $16.8 million toward the construction. A private fundraising campaign is continuing.

New Atlantic Contracting Inc. of Winston-Salem, N.C., the project’s general contractor, submitted the lowest construction bid — approved by the New College Foundation, NCI’s private fundraising arm — at $13,289,000.

Still, more money is needed to cover the cost of advanced manufacturing equipment to be installed in the building, as well as furniture and classroom technology, Wampler said.

He does not yet know how much all of that will cost, but he estimated that NCI still needs to raise at least $2.5 million to $3 million to cover the price.

Construction on the building began in May and, weather permitting, should be finished by next May, according to Wampler.

The NCI block grant was one of 11 totaling more than $6.8 million that McDonnell announced for projects statewide, including the South Street Neighborhood Improvement Project in Henry County. (See related story.)

“This program has long been providing funding for projects that continue to improve the quality of life for thousands of Virginians every year,” McDonnell said in a release. Through block grants, “we are able to address needs across the commonwealth including housing rehabilitation, water and sewer service, downtown revitalization and much more.”


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