$50 Million Seed Offered for College

January 12, 2004


A philanthropic group has pledged $50 million if the state will establish a four-year public college in the Martinsville-Henry County community.

The challenge grant was approved Saturday by the board of directors of The Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont, based in Martinsville.

The pledge followed last week's visit to Danville by Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who called for a school to be built in the "Danville-Martinsville corridor" to serve deep Southside. Others in the area have discussed the need for a school of higher education.

Donald R. Hodges, the foundation's president, said the group's vote was prompted by Kaine's comments.

"We wanted to be sure the Martinsville-Henry County name is in the hat," Hodges said. "And if this hastens the project, we could certainly use the educational benefit and the economic benefit."

Meanwhile, Kaine said the pledge is exciting and significantly increases the chance of the school being established. He encouraged "others who are interested to come forward."

Without mentioning a specific location, Kaine said he will sponsor a resolution calling on the State Council for Higher Education to include the school in its plans.

While conditions of the challenge are not final, it does require the state to establish and develop the institution by January 2006, and then maintain it.

The challenge grant, known as the Harvest Challenge, would be earmarked for the school. It could include funds for endowed chairs, property acquisition and renovation, dormitory and classroom construction, academic scholarships and planning, the foundation said.

Foundation officials said a four-year public college would help revitalize Martinsville and the surrounding community. They point out that the area has suffered economically in recent years as its manufacturing and agricultural bases have eroded.

The foundation said it is also assembling an advisory committee of prominent Virginia educators.

The 21st-century economy will be built on a foundation of education and knowledge, and demand for higher education is increasing considerably in Virginia because of the state's burgeoning college-age population, the organization declared in a statement.

"Virginia has a tradition of excellence in higher education, and The Harvest Foundation is determined to establish that tradition for Southside Virginia," the statement said.

The Harvest Foundation was created in 2002 when it received $150 million after the sale of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville and Henry County. It seeks to improve the overall quality of life in the areas of health, education and welfare in the region historically served by the hospital.

Contact Jamie C. Ruff at (434) 517-0997 or jruff@timesdispatch.com


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