January 10, 2004
DANVILLE, Va. - A proposal for a public university in Southside gained momentum Saturday when a local organization approved a $50 million challenge grant to help establish the school.
The Harvest Foundation, known for providing financial assistance to various causes in the Martinsville and Henry County area, unanimously approved the grant, calling its contribution a commitment to the state?s ?tradition of excellence in higher education.?
The ?Harvest Challenge? will require the state to ?establish and develop the proposed institution by January 2006 and maintain it thereafter,? according to a press release from the foundation. The grant ?could include funds for endowed chairs, property acquisition and renovation, dormitory and classroom construction, planning, and academic scholarships.?
Michael Haley, Harvest?s grant committee chair, said Saturday that the organization doesn?t know if its contribution would be enough to get a university running or if it?s more than adequate.
?We think $50 million is a substantial part of it,? Haley said. ?Basically, if the state builds the school, we?ll cut them a check for $50 million.?
Haley said the grant is a significant gesture for Harvest, since its assets for improvements in the community total around $150 million.
The foundation believes the school would revitalize Martinsville and the surrounding community.
?The area has suffered economically in recent years as its manufacturing and agricultural bases have eroded,? according to a statement issued by the Harvest Foundation. ?Education and knowledge are the foundations of success in the 21st century economy. Demand for higher education is increasing significantly in Virginia because of the state?s burgeoning college-age population.?
The foundation, created in 2002 after the sale of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County, also stated that the challenge grant has additional details that still need to be finalized.
Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, who had called Tuesday for a four-year, state-supported college or university in the Southside region while visiting the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research, quickly trumpeted Harvest?s initiative.
Kaine said Saturday that he?d been toying with the concept of a state university in Southside for several months. Harvest had expressed interest in the idea as well, he said, and particularly after Kaine made the announcement.
?This is very good news for Southside. It makes me really happy,? Kaine said. ?It?s a very exciting development to try to make the idea of a Southside university possible. I?d encourage any other interested parties to step forward as well.?
Kaine, the former mayor of Richmond and next year?s likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said that Virginia Commonwealth University injected considerable life into the capital city, adding he is confident a state university would do the same for Southside.
?(A university) would help area families who currently have to send their children at least two hours away to gain an in-state, four-year college education,? a statement from Kaine?s office said. ?It would also serve as an economic engine for the area by generating jobs, real estate investment and spin-off business activity.?
Kaine is proposing legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session to ?direct the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia to plan for a public, four-year university in Southside Virginia to accommodate the additional students that SCHEV is anticipating before the end of the decade,? Kaine?s office stated.
Kaine also said he hoped the funding would draw more attention to the institute, which he called a major ?building block? for a state university.
?The institute gives us a head start,? he said.
State Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Pittsylvania County, said recently he supports anything that helps the efforts begun with the institute. In the 1990s, Hawkins brought the issue of a state university in the region to the forefront when he pushed a study resolution on the matter through the legislature.
He said Saturday that he hopes Danville and Pittsylvania County can work with the Henry County area on the possibility of a public university.
?We need to make sure that we can achieve some ultimate goal,? he said.
U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-5th, declined to comment on the grant itself, adding that he hopes to talk with officials soon about the proposition.
?I certainly want to see a state university in southern Virginia,? Goode said.
Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Martinsville, was unable to be reached Saturday for comment on the issue.
Staff writer George Whitehurst contributed to this report.
Contact Jeff Davis at email@example.com or (434) 793-2311, Ext. 3091.
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