October 30, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The New College Institute (NCI) is striving to help area residents, including minorities, get better educations so they can get better jobs, according to institute officials.
A public meeting about the NCI building under construction on the Dana O. Baldwin Block in uptown Martinsville was held Tuesday at The Sportsman’s Club on Fayette Street, a block away from the construction site.
The block is across Market Street from the city’s largely minority West Side. Most of the approximately 20 people at the meeting were minorities.
During the meeting, NCI Executive Director William Wampler mentioned that among the approximately 40 high school students in the institute’s Academy for Engineering and Technology, a little more than half are female and about 75 percent are black.
According to Wampler, those facts have surprised people statewide who are monitoring NCI’s development of an advanced manufacturing program for college and dually enrolled high school students. The program will be based in the new building after the construction is finished next spring.
For students in the academy, “I know of nothing better than to give them a world-class education,” Wampler said.
Companies statewide such as Rolls Royce, which makes aircraft engine parts at a plant near Petersburg, are potentially interested in hiring graduates of NCI’s advanced manufacturing program, he noted.
So are high-tech local companies such as Commonwealth Laminating and RTI International, according to NCI officials.
“We have jobs in our community that go unfilled all the time because we don’t have the people trained” to fill them, said NCI Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins.
“The more education you have,” Blevins said, “... the better the chance you have of getting a good job.”
Wampler said NCI’s new building should help minorities in Martinsville’s West Side gain easier access to higher education due to its closeness to them.
Curtis Millner, board chairman of the Fayette Area Historical Initiative (FAHI) and member of the Henry County School Board, said he hopes NCI is willing to work with the organization to host educational and entertainment events at the new building and to allow the county schools to use it sometimes.
Wampler replied that efforts to improve access to higher education locally are “a three-legged stool” between NCI, Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and public schools in Martinsville and Henry County.
NCI cannot be successful without PHCC, which cannot be successful unless the city and county school systems supply the college with graduates who want college degrees and are determined to earn them, Wampler said.
Also, he told Millner, NCI wants to work with FAHI to use the new building to help the community recall and promote local history involving minorities.
“We want to be neighbors for a long time,” Wampler said of NCI and FAHI.
The three-story, 52,000-square-foot building under construction is the first to be built specifically for NCI, which now has several facilities uptown.
Construction is on schedule and expected to be finished late next spring despite heavy rainfall in recent months, Wampler said.
“To my knowledge, we’ve not had a single glitch” in the construction process, said Joyce French, a consultant working with the New College Foundation, NCI’s private fundraising entity, to seek out grant funds.
Costs for the building — including construction, equipment and furnishings — are expected to total about $18 million.
About $17 million in federal and state funds, plus public and private grants, has been raised. A $2 million fundraising campaign continues.
When construction is completed, the building will house NCI’s administrative offices and academic programs being created in health care technology and entrepreneurism, as well as the advanced manufacturing component.
The building also will have a Grand Hall for public events, and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. and the uptown visitors center will move into the building, officials have said.
Wampler said the Grand Hall will accommodate as many as 450 people but partitions will allow it to be divided into thirds so it can be used for multiple things at one time.
First priority for the hall will be academics, Wampler said. But when it is not needed for learning, it will be rented for community events, he said.
“Think about what conference, lecture or event you want to see” and then let NCI know what it is, Wampler said during the meeting. He indicated that the institute will try to make it happen.
“It’s going to be up to the community” to decide what the Grand Hall will host, he said.
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