Allen discusses Southside university

August 19, 2004

Register & Bee staff writer

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - U.S. Sen. George Allen made a pit stop in Martinsville on Wednesday to hear plans for the establishment of a four-year public university in Southside Virginia.

The idea is the brainchild of Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, who argues that a state university would boost the region?s economy and help the commonwealth accommodate a projected 61,000 additional college students over the next decade.

Allen and U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-5th, met Wednesday with members of The Harvest Foundation. The foundation, created in 2002 after the sale of Memorial Hospital of Martinsville, uses assets from the sale to promote the health, education and welfare of the community.

The group has pledged $50 million toward the establishment of a four-year university in Martinsville.

One of the things we?re really interested in doing is having a transforming impact in the community, said Harry Cerino, executive director of the Harvest Foundation. We said if the commonwealth would locate a four-year institution here in the Martinsville area ... we would make available $50 million to help promote that.

The Harvest Foundation has hired Ronald Carrier, former president of James Madison University, to head the project.

He?s been there and done it, so we thought we would get the best to help this become a reality, Cerino said.

Allen and Goode said they were impressed by the private presentation they received from the group.

Clearly, having a university in any community is a tremendous asset, Allen said. Obviously, we?re impressed. What I like is that it is an innovative approach. It will appeal to diligent students who want to learn, who want to learn quickly. It?s - in some ways - revolutionary, what they?re doing.

They have a can-do spirit with enthusiasm and energy, Goode said. I was impressed with the details of their plans.

Allen and Goode said the organization will have to move further in its plans before they can promise federal assistance.

The teamwork involved in developing the university, which is seen as a magnet for jobs and businesses, is being compared to the public-private partnership used to bring the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research to fruition.

Anything like this takes a great deal of teamwork. It?s going to be really unique, especially in higher education, Allen said. This is going to be a big huge team, just like the institute in Danville.

Allen said he is glad to see a spark of hope in the economically troubled Martinsville area.

The city?s not dying. It?s coming back, he said.

The Harvest Foundation is expected to release more details about its proposal in the next few weeks.


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