City offers $1M for college

February 2, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

Martinsville City Council on Tuesday committed $1 million over a decade to help set up a state-financed, four-year college locally in the next two years.

The commitment will be through cash payments or in-kind contributions to support infrastructure improvements that the college might need, according to a resolution that the council unanimously approved. Mayor Joe Cobbe was not present; he was out of town.

"My guess is that it will be a combination" of money and services, said City Manager Dan Collins.

In-kind contributions, he said, may include the installation of sidewalks, streets or water and sewer lines. Or, "the city may own some property that the college can use," he said, adding that no such property has been identified.

Any money that the city gives to the state for the college probably would be taken from the general fund or reserve funds, Collins said. Because the commitment equates to $100,000 per year, he said, he thinks hikes in tax rates or service fees will not be necessary to cover it.

However, the need for a local institution of higher education is "important enough for (the city) to spend" money to attract it, he said.

Establishing a state-supported school in Martinsville or Henry County that gives baccalaureate degrees is "of paramount and overriding importance to the well-being of our citizens, the rebirth of our economy and the cohesive progress of the Southside region," the resolution states.

Economic developers have said that a new college would boost the local economy, not only through new jobs it would create but also through new jobs created by new businesses that would serve the school and its students.

By reserving city funds for the prospective college, "there shouldn't be any question at all that we (council members) support the concept," Councilman Ron Ferrill said.

Collins, Cobbe, Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. and city Communications Manager Matt Hankins will present the resolution to Gov. Mark Warner in a meeting Friday at the state capital in Richmond.

That is why a special council meeting was called Tuesday to approve the document, officials indicated.

The resolution calls for a "four-year, residential, baccalaureate degree-granting college" to be established by 2007.

Among those who have voiced support for setting up such an institution in Southside are Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine and Warner, who has committed $1.5 million in his budget proposal for that purpose.

The Harvest Foundation is supporting a plan for the New College of Virginia, which would not be a traditional four-year university. Rather, students would enter an accelerated baccalaureate program to get degrees within 28 months, based on a model by Dr. Ronald Carrier, former president and chancellor of James Madison University.

The Harvest Foundation, which issued a $50 million challenge grant to the state, hired Carrier to design the college. Possible sites mentioned for the school include uptown Martinsville and a donated tract off U.S. 58.

Despite funds that Warner budgeted, the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has said more study of demand for a Southside college is needed before the state commits to funding one.

City Finance Director Wade Bartlett said that is only a recommendation and the state has not yet taken an official position.

As an alternative to the state starting a new college, Longwood University and Old Dominion University have proposed collaborating with Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) on a "2+2" program.

Under the proposal, PHCC would provide students the first two years of a four-year degree program, while either of the other two would provide the remaining years. A combination of face-to-face and Web-based instruction largely would be used.

The Harvest Foundation has said its $50 million would not be available for that option.

Bartlett, who doubles as assistant city manager, said he thinks the city's $1 million pledge itself would not be enough to sway state lawmakers to fund a new college. But it could help, he reasoned.

"It shows the community is willing to put some dollars into it also," he said.


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