January 12, 2004
By Mason Adams
The Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont is not only pitching Martinsville and Henry County as the ideal location for a four-year state college in Southside, but it's also putting its money where its mouth is.
The foundation's board unanimously approved a $50 million challenge grant to the state of Virginia, dependent on the state establishing a public, four-year college in Henry County or Martinsville within the next two years.
Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine said last week that he will propose legislation directing the State Council of Higher Education to plan for such a college. He also mentioned Danville as a possible site.
Donald Hodges, president of the Harvest Foundation, said the group decided it would try to get Henry County considered as well.
"Our community has just been devastated with job losses this past decade, so when this mention of a four-year college being established in Southside came up the last week or so, we checked into it," Hodges said. "We want to get Martinsville's name in the hat. We believe a four-year college in Southside Virginia could just transform this community."
Grant committee chairman Michael Haley said the Harvest Foundation wanted to show its support for the idea by action, not words.
"Instead of saying it's a good idea, we're saying, 'Here's $50 million, let's do something about it,'" Haley said.
The $50 million came from the 2002 sale of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County, which created the foundation. The foundation's bylaws require it to spend the hospital money within Martinsville or Henry County.
A press release suggests the money could be used by a college for endowed chairs, property acquisition and renovation, dormitory and classroom construction, planning and academic scholarships.
In a reaction statement, Kaine said the challenge grant demonstrates that the idea for a four-year Southside college is gaining momentum.
"The Harvest Foundation is taking a bold and courageous step forward to put its loaf into the basket," Kaine said. "I would encourage any other group or organization interested in this project to do the same. I believe the challenge grant greatly increases the chances that a Southside university will be built."
Kaine said he will introduce the legislation during the General Assembly session that starts this week. He said the college is necessary for families who must send their children more than two hours away for an in-state education at a public college or university.
Kaine also said the college will help stimulate the area's economy by providing jobs, real estate opportunities and spinoff business activity.
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