August 19, 2004
By DOUGLAS HAIRSTON
Bulletin Staff Writer
Two of the state's federal legislators on Wednesday endorsed the plan to locate a four-year university in Southside, calling the proposal a "winning opportunity."
|U.S. Sen. George Allen (left), R-Va., and Dr. Ronald Carrier discuss plans for a proposed four-year college in Southside.|
Carrier heads the organization charged by The Harvest Foundation with establishing a model for the college.
Joined by 5th District U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Rocky Mount, Allen expressed his support for the university during a press conference at the West Piedmont Business Development Center in uptown Martinsville, which houses the IIAS staff.
Allen said his purpose in visiting the region Wednesday was to get a briefing on the proposed college after months spent reading about it in the media and learning about it from staff members.
Goode called the plans for the college "impressive" and said that Carrier and his staff have a "can-do" spirit, an attribute he termed essential for the success of an endeavor of this magnitude.
In addition to whatever other help Allen and Goode may be able to provide, Carrier said he asked them for help in securing federal funds for educational/economic development in rural areas and the rehabilitation of downtown districts.
Allen said after the meeting that legislators could help "in a variety of ways," but added that "they (the IIAS) are going to have to get a little bit further along in their plans."
Carrier, the former president of James Madison University, has set a timetable to have detailed plans to present to the State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) by the end of the year.
SCHEV was commissioned by the General Assembly to study the establishment of a university in Southside.
Carrier also has said that the university will have a presence in uptown Martinsville next year.
He has touted a non-traditional model for the university, drawing on a combination of online and classroom learning with "world class" laboratories open 24 hours a day.
Allen seemed to like the idea.
"Like a bunch of pack mules, too many people look at doing things the same old way," he said. "This may have a change on some of the ways higher education operates. There will be some who say, ?Why don't we do it the way they are doing it in Southside?'"
Given the university's emphasis on telecommunications, one recently awarded federal grant that the lawmakers helped secure for the area likely will have an immediate impact, said Goode
Called the Regional Backbone Initiative, a $12 million project, funded in part with a $6 million federal grant, the project looks to expand broadband Internet access to rural communities along the North Carolina border, including Martinsville and the counties of Henry and Patrick.
Goode hinted that there may be additional federal aid in the works. With a confident smile, he said, "Regarding downtown Martinsville and this area, we are working on items not ready for announcement today."
Allen urged the community to also get behind the university idea and applauded the $50 million Harvest Foundation challenge grant to fund it.
The donation is "amazing ... unprecedented generosity," he said.
Nevertheless, the success of the university will take a community effort, he said -- including assistance from city council members and county supervisors, as well as state and federal officials.
"Rather than a bunch of people saying how awful things are -- and things are tough here -- the community is taking it upon itself to turn things around. The city is not dying -- it's coming back," Allen added.
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