April 11, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Plans for a New College Institute (NCI) building proposed for the vacant Baldwin Block uptown have been altered to accommodate a second main entrance along Fayette Street.
Revised plans move the L-shaped building about 30 feet into the block to make room for more green space along Market and Fayette streets and a small courtyard at the intersection of those streets, according to Leanna Blevins, NCI’s associate director and chief academic officer.
A sidewalk would be installed on the property to get people from that courtyard to the Fayette Street entrance, and benches would be placed nearby, Blevins said.
The altered plans were presented during a regular Martinsville City Council meeting Tuesday night. Nobody voiced opposition to the plans.
Another main entrance still would face West Church Street and a larger courtyard and large parking lot bordering that street and Moss Street.
At a special council meeting Monday, some people from the city’s west side said they thought that having the building’s main entrance face West Church would be disrespectful to the block’s namesake, Dr. Dana O. Baldwin.
They indicated that they thought the building should face Fayette Street instead.
Baldwin was a prominent local African-American physician and philanthropist who died in 1972. Fayette Street is the main route through the largely black neighborhoods near the Baldwin Block and the uptown business district.
“I’m so excited” about the proposed new NCI building, said Naomi Hodge-Muse, president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP.
“The fact that they moved so quickly (on Tuesday) to reorient the building” following the concerns expressed during Monday’s council meeting “speaks volumes” about NCI’s commitment to the community, she said.
During Tuesday’s council session, NCI Executive Director William Wampler said the slope of the land and other topographical factors played roles in determining exactly where on the block the building can be built.
NCI proposes constructing a three-story, approximately 50,000-square-foot building with room for academic programs, community activities and space to honor Baldwin and present community history.
The building would contain a 10,000-square-foot Grand Hall with a seating capacity of up to 450 people. Wampler has said he envisions the hall being used for activities such as banquets, public lectures, reunions, high school proms and graduation ceremonies, and possibly musical performances.
The Grand Hall would be built in a way that partitions could divide it into three smaller areas, he noted Tuesday.
Dewberry & Davis, a Danville architectural and engineering firm, is designing the building. Councilman Mark Stroud said he is familiar with other buildings the company has designed, and they are “always extraordinary.”
"Let common sense rule” and get the building built, said Mervyn King, an uptown property owner who has renovated several buildings for NCI’s use. “There’s nothing better for this community.”
Wampler estimates the building’s cost at $10 million to $15 million. NCI’s private fundraising arm, the New College Foundation, hopes to tap sources such as the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and The Harvest Foundation to help pay the cost, he has said.
Responding to a question from Councilman Danny Turner, Wampler said, “I don’t want to play all my cards on the table” in terms of naming all of the potential funding sources he plans to contact.
He said he aims to “negotiate ... the best price we can” get from interested contractors. He added that the building’s actual cost will be determined to a degree by how much equipment and modern technology is installed.
The city would have to donate the block to NCI for the building. The council scheduled a public hearing for its April 24 meeting to consider adopting an ordinance — which City Attorney Eric Monday will draft — to that effect.
Councilman Gene Teague suggested that the ordinance have a stipulation along the line that if fundraising is not successful and the building does not come to fruition, the block would revert to city ownership.
In the coming days, NCI plans to hold a public informational meeting at Albert Harris Elementary School about the proposed building. The time and date will be announced.
NCI also plans to set up a display about the building, and to answer questions about the structure, at the municipal building immediately before the April 24 meeting, Blevins said.
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