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NCI staff begins to move in
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Greg Bowman of Ronco Communications tests computer equipment Monday inside a classroom at the New College Institute’s new building uptown.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

There’s no turning back now.

On Monday, New College Institute (NCI) administrators and staff members began moving into the institute’s new building on the Baldwin Block uptown, although construction is not quite finished yet.

The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the uptown visitor’s center also started moving into the new building.

In many offices and classrooms, furnishings such as chairs and tables were clustered in the middle of the rooms. Boxes of files and personal items were on the floor or on top of desks, awaiting placement in just the right spots.

It’s like moving into a new house, EDC President/Chief Executive Officer Mark Heath said, in that “it’s a mess until you figure out” where to put everything.

For NCI employees, the building’s ultramodern interior is a big change — albeit a pleasant one — from their previous traditional-style offices on the first floor of the Pythian Building on Courthouse Square.

The third-floor administrative suite at the new building has NCI’s offices on one side and the EDC’s offices on the other. It has an industrial-style ceiling, with large air-conditioning/heating pipes and ducts in view and light fixtures suspended several feet on cords.

Offices are mostly, if not entirely, enclosed by glass walls. Interior walls do not go all the way up to the ceiling. Some offices have a wall that is a large window overlooking the central business district or other nearby areas.

In her lengthy career in education, NCI Associate Director/Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins said she has never had such a modern office.

“I predict I’ll have spring fever next spring, looking out (the windows) all the time,” Blevins said.

And maybe a bit of a chill this winter when snow is falling, since all that will separate her from the outdoors are a few panes of glass, she reckoned.

“I’m excited about the whole (modern) concept,” said Executive Assistant Melanie Ingram. “It’s new, it’s fresh.”

“This is a state-of-the-art facility that is going to change this community” for the better, predicted recently hired Facilities Manager Steve Brumfield.

A couple of people he knows have told him they plan to enroll in academic programs at NCI largely because they want to be in the building, he said.

NCI has “definitely become a positive force in the community,” and public interest in the new building points that out, said Autumn Morris, NCI’s new communications manager.

Classrooms in the building are designed to foster discussions among students and instructors, rather than students listening to lectures.

Some classrooms have modern plastic desks with wheels enabling them to be moved around easily. The desks also have large bottom racks where students can stow purses and coats while attending classes.

Other classrooms have nontraditional furnishings. For instance, one which Blevins described as a “collaboratory” has a large, three-sided couch with a bar-like counter on the back, next to which stools can be placed.

Camry Harris, who was part of a community group touring the new building on Monday, said he felt comfortable sitting in the nontraditional classroom.

“It’s roomy,” he said, and the way it is designed, “you actually have room to think in here.”

Classrooms have the latest electronic learning technology. For example, the collaboratory has connections into which people can plug mobile phones and have images on the phones projected onto a wall.

“It’s exciting to see” what could transpire as part of lessons taught in such classrooms, Harris said.

The building is costing NCI about $18.7 million. A fundraising campaign is covering all but $2 million of the expense. The rest is being covered by contributions from the state and various organizations.

NCI employees expect to start working in the building by the end of this week, Blevins said. Still, it probably will take until about August to finish situating furnishings and installing and testing equipment, she said.


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