Local Legislators Support Harvest College Effort

December 18, 2005

Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

Area leaders must keep pushing the General Assembly to approve the New College Institute even though Gov.-elect Tim Kaine is strongly backing the proposed school, according to local lawmakers.

Kaine, who will succeed Gov. Mark Warner in January, has been a "staunch supporter" of the college, Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, told about 25 local government and business leaders during the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce's Pre-Legislative Conference on Friday.

Warner's proposed state budget released Friday contains $4.5 million Ñ $2.1 million next year and $2.5 million the following year Ñ toward the New College Planning Commission's efforts to establish the school.

The "only reason" that legislative support has been gained so far is Kaine's vocal support for the college, said state Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway.

However, "there are voices in this community who are speaking against it," Reynolds said. After the meeting, he declined to name them but said that he has received "numerous letters" from "people who said they were citizens in this community" who are not in favor of the college.

Any disagreement about the college within the community will make it harder to win General Assembly approval, he said.

Reynolds also said that private colleges statewide are fighting efforts to launch the New College. He urged anyone who knows officials with private institutions to encourage them to support the New College.

State history shows that each time there were attempts to establish a new higher education institution in Virginia, there have been opponents but "they have always been wrong," Armstrong said.

In the case of the New College, it has been demonstrated that Southside is being underserved in terms of higher education, he said.

Economic developers have said that having a four-year institution of higher education that confers baccalaureate degrees in Henry County or Martinsville should greatly boost efforts to lure new business and industry. It would show prospective companies that a quality local work force exists, they have said.

"Our universities today are the economic engines driving our economy," Reynolds said.

"It is very important for the momentum for the New College of Virginia to continue," Armstrong said, adding "we need to work toward establishing a beachhead for this college."

"We have made some progress," said Reynolds. But there is still "a way to go" before General Assembly approval for the college is won, and it is "not going to be an easy accomplishment."

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, did not mention the New College of Virginia in his speech. Republican Del. Robert Hurt, a lawyer from Chatham, could not attend the luncheon because he was in court.


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