November 2, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Thursday was hailed by local leaders as the dawn of a new economic day for Henry County-Martinsville as the New College Institute (NCI) broke ground for a new building to be used to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.
During the past six years, the immediate priority of NCI has been to get “up and running and successful,” said Barry Dorsey, its former executive director. The new building uptown will be “the next step” in its history, he said.
Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County, said the building will help firmly secure NCI’s place among Virginia’s higher education institutions.
The three-story, 50,000-square-foot building, which is to be the first facility built specifically for NCI, is to be built on the historic Dana O. Baldwin Block. It is to house new programs the institute is creating in advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurism and health care as well as contain administrative offices and public meeting space.
Also, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. and the Martinsville-Henry County Visitor’s Center plan to relocate to the building.
At the groundbreaking, Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins conveyed the deed to the block bordering Fayette, West Church, Market and Moss Streets to NCI’s current executive director, William Wampler.
Conveying the block to the institute, Adkins said, is “proof your city council views education as an economic driver to create jobs and increase the wealth of our citizens and the community.”
Wampler presented Adkins and other Martinsville City Council members with a framed artist’s rendering of the new building’s exterior.
Baldwin was a philanthropist and physician who practiced medicine in the now vacant block that once was part of a business area that served mainly the black community. NCI officials have said the institute will find a way to honor Baldwin’s legacy and recall the block’s history.
Two signs, including a historical marker, denoting Baldwin and the block’s history have been taken down temporarily. NCI Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins said when the construction is finished, the signs will be reinstalled in “a prominent place” where students, faculty and visitors at the institute can easily see them.
At a recent public meeting, the Rev. Tyler Millner of Axton said he foresaw “no black business actually reaping” any benefits from the new NCI building.
However, Millner led roughly 120 people at the groundbreaking in prayer Thursday. He said the building will “give rise to new Baldwins” whose work will benefit the community as well as a revitalized Fayette Street that will be “growing and inclusive” of all people, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status.
Asked after the ceremony if his concerns about the building were resolved, Millner said he thinks having it on the Baldwin Block will be “a great honor” and “as it goes up, I hope the community will go up” by prospering.
“People finally are realizing this (building and the academic programs it will house) is what we’ve got to have” to rejuvenate the local economy, said Merricks, who represents Martinsville and part of Henry County.
Construction of the building is expected to cost about $15 million. Of that amount, The Harvest Foundation has pledged up to $8 million. The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission — on which Merricks serves — is contributing another $5 million.
The New College Foundation, NCI’s private fundraising arm, has begun a $2 million capital campaign. In all, Wampler said about $13.5 million already has been raised for the project.
Capital campaign donors were not identified, but Martinsville Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr., chairman of the New College Foundation, said that all contributions are welcome and will “shape the course of our future.”
“No financial gift is too small,” Reynolds said.
The ceremony concluded with NCI and city officials sticking shovels into the ground, which was so hard that they were not able to turn much dirt.
Still, “this has been a long time coming,” Wampler said.
Site preparation work, including the removal of concrete in the ground and relocation of utility lines, is to start next week. Wampler said a fence will be installed around the block for safety purposes until construction is finished. There also will be a temporary water retention pond in a corner of the site.
NCI officials expect to announce a contractor for the site preparation work next week. They hope to have final design plans for the building by January, hire a general contractor in February and have construction of the building under way in March.
Funded by the state and Harvest, NCI offers local access to courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees bestowed by various Virginia universities. Local leaders have said they want to see the institute eventually become a university, or at least a branch campus of one that already exists.
Merricks said becoming a branch campus is “probably the first way to go.” Having a new building should help NCI achieve that goal someday, he said.
First, though, “we must make sure we’ve got a pipeline” of students coming into NCI, Merricks said. Then when the economy gets better, “we can go out and find a suitor” interested in taking over the institute.
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