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NCI building on cutting edge with technology
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Sen. William Wampler, executive director of the New College Institute (NCI), stands in front of the new NCI building on the Baldwin Block in Martinsville. The building is on track to be completed in July. Wampler said that, as the building approaches completion, its appearance changes each day. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Monday, June 2, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

William Wampler is like a kid in a candy store as he walks around in the New College Institute (NCI) building under construction in uptown Martinsville.

As the building nears completion, its appearance — both inside and out — changes significantly each day, said Wampler, NCI’s executive director. Each time he visits the construction site on the Baldwin Block, he sees something new, he said during a tour Friday.

“Wow,” he exclaimed when he saw that a new control cabinet for high-tech electronic equipment had been installed since the previous day.

It’s not that the former state senator has a fascination with electronics.

Rather, he said, “I’ve been signing the invoices” for all the equipment and furnishings ordered for the building, and when items arrive, he is eager to see what they look like.

More than $1.7 million worth of the latest videoconferencing and electronic learning equipment is being installed in the building, according to Wampler.

The three-story, roughly 52,000-square-foot building will be the first built specifically for NCI. It will house advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurship and health care technology programs being established by the institute as well as administrative offices.

The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the uptown visitors center will move into the building, which also will have indoor and outdoor spaces for public events. Those include a large courtyard, two small amphitheaters and a larger rectangular stage.

NCI estimates the building’s total cost — including construction, equipment and furnishings — at $18.7 million. The state and various organizations are covering $16.7 million of that amount. A $2 million “Building on Baldwin” fundraising campaign is underway to cover the rest.

Local companies already have voiced interest in holding some of their board meetings in the building’s board room on the third floor, where NCI and EDC staff will have offices. Wampler noted that the room will have several video screens and other technology enabling company officials to, for instance, communicate with branch offices throughout the world simultaneously.

When the EDC entertains executives from companies interested in coming to Martinsville or Henry County, two observation decks on the third floor will enable the executives to see almost panoramic views of the community — including the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park.

A large first-floor room designed for advanced manufacturing instruction will contain large pieces of equipment designed to train people for jobs with local window film and aircraft parts makers. Yet most skills that students learn on the equipment will be needed at most high-tech firms, Wampler said.

Much of the second floor will host classrooms and “breakout areas” where students can informally gather.

Wampler was pleasantly surprised Friday to see that the breakout areas had been designed with unique shapes and painted avocado green.

Many classroom walls in the spacious, ultramodern building either will be of glass or a material that allows students to write on them like large dry erase boards. Wampler said writing on the walls will help students share ideas in a convenient, fun way.

The large amount of glass in the building, along with many security cameras, will let employees easily see who enters the structure and where they go. The classroom areas were designed so that if someone thought to be an intruder were spotted, affected areas could quickly be locked down.

In addition, “we’re just 30 seconds away from the police station,” Wampler pointed out.

Not all of the modern features are for learning. Some are just for aesthetic appeal.

For example, slanted restroom sinks channel water into a narrow trough before it flows into a barely visible drain. Wampler acknowledged that he hasn’t yet determined how to unclog a drain, but he said he is optimistic someone will figure it out.

Instead of gutters, rain water from the roof of the visitor’s center will flow down large chains into a reservoir system that will take it to city sewers.

A wall in the building will showcase area history — especially that of the Baldwin Block, once a major local center of commerce for black residents — with displays that will be rotated periodically. Wampler said the Fayette Area Historical Initiative plans to provide the first several displays.

Three cement walls outside the building, along the Market Street side, eventually will be used to highlight local history, too, he said.

Construction was to have been completed this month but was delayed due to bad weather. Wampler now expects the building to be ready to occupy in mid-July.

Most furnishings and equipment will be installed by then, but it likely will be later this year before advanced manufacturing equipment arrives, he said.

Wampler estimated that the building is about 90 percent complete.

“It’s all looking good,” he told construction workers while walking through the building. “If it would quit raining, we could get it done.”

“Yep,” some of the workers responded.

“They tell me they’re on schedule” now, Wampler added. “I still see a lot of work to be done, but that’s their business. They tell me they can get it done in 30 days” for the most part.

By mid-June, the building should be “substantially complete,” Wampler said, with about 98 percent of the construction done. Then construction workers will “go room to room and finish the small things” as well as finish work on landscaping outside.

July 15 is the target date for all construction to be finished.

Plans for a building dedication ceremony and grand opening celebration will be announced soon, according to Debbie Lewis, development officer for the New College Foundation, NCI’s private fundraising arm.


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