College, Museum get funds

February 27, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

State budget conferees included $1 million for a Southside university and restored $2 million to the Virginia Museum of Natural History in the $63 billion state spending package approved Saturday.

"The momentum can only go forward," said Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, a long-time supporter of the Southside college idea. "I'm certainly going to do that. Once the session is over, we'll pull everyone back and look at what is the best way to go forward." The $1 million includes $100,000 for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to "conduct or contract for an assessment for post secondary enrollment needed and program needed in Southside Virginia," according to Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville.

The use of the remaining $900,000, he said, will be up to the State Secretary of Education, in consultation with SCHEV.

"There is language in the measure to look at existing resources, including community colleges and private colleges," which reflects SCHEV's preference for that route, rather than the proposed New College of Virginia, in a study it completed for the General Assembly session, Armstrong said.

"I think it's a very positive development," he said. "It is a win. We get the money put back" and Gov. Mark Warner could add funds when the spending plan reaches his desk.

Warner had proposed $1.5 million for the Southside university in his budget amendments. The Senate left that unchanged, but the House of Delegates slashed it to $100,000.

"I think the worse thing that could have happened is if they had gone with the House version with $100,000," Armstrong said. "It would have stalled the momentum. That has not happened."

Kaine said he would have considered it a victory if conferees had split the difference between the $1.5 million and the $100,000.

"We got better than that," he said.

Harry Cerino, executive director of The Harvest Foundation which has issued a $50 million challenge to state to open a college in this area, called the state funding "very validating," although he reserved most comments until he could see a description of the funding.

In addition to the challenge grant, the foundation hired Dr. Ronald Carrier to create and implement what is being called the New College of Virginia in the Martinsville and Henry County area.

"But the whole idea of a million dollars for what we're attempting to do in a general way validates a lot of the work Dr. Carrier has done and a lot of his thinking and conceptualizing on a model," Cerino added. "If we'll have the opportunity to have a say in how that's spent, it will be really, really wonderful, but that's premature."

Carrier and Cerino issued a statement Saturday night, calling the funds to continue planning a college in Southside "very good news."

They thanked Armstrong, Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, and Dels. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, and Danny Marshall, R-Danville.? "We look forward to continuing to work with the state government to make the New College of Virginia a reality," Carrier and Cerino added.

The $2 million restored to the museum funding was "more of a communications glitch than anything," Armstrong said.

Traditionally, the General Assembly does not fund museum exhibits, he said. Budget analysts mistakenly through the $2 million was to finish the exhibits, not the exhibit hall, in the building under construction on Starling Avenue, said museum Executive Director Tim Gette.

Gette and some museum board members spent last week in Richmond explaining that the money was "clearly not for exhibits. It was to make the place work for exhibits."

"Once that was cleared up and we got a full itemization, it was put back in the budget," Armstrong added.

Gette said the money will be used for lighting design and fixtures, finishing the floors, state-required change orders on fire areas, signs and pricing adjustments.

"I'm very pleased, excited. This has become a real exciting project," he said.

The museum staff has become involved in making the exhibits the best possible, Gette said. He noted that in a meeting last week with the exhibit designers, "they said it was unusual that the staff has so much ownership to want to tell their story on scientific research."

Armstrong said he was disappointed that Warner's Virginia Works program to help with economic development in disadvantaged rural areas was cut by two-thirds, to $7 million. That program also includes the Governor's Opportunity Fund, he said.

"Overall, I give it an A minus," he said, grading the budget plan that will face an up-or-down vote, with no amendments possible, from legislators before they adjourn today. "They get an A-plus on the museum and an A minus on the college. It represents a lot of hard work by a lot of people," including the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce and The Harvest Foundation.

"It was a good community effort and that effort was noticed," he added.

Chamber President Kim Adkins was stunned by the funding for both the college and museum.

"Wow. ... I wasn't anticipating that," she said, adding that she has learned that legislators sometimes do not want to build up people's expectations when they're working on issues such as these.

"That's incredibly positive," she added.


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