NCI unveils building plans

April 6, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A three-story building that the New College Institute (NCI) hopes to erect on the Baldwin Block uptown would have space for academic programs, community activities and a tribute to the block’s namesake.

NCI announced plans Thursday for the building, which is expected to cost $10 million to $15 million. Before construction can begin, however, the institute’s private fundraising arm, the New College Foundation, must come up with the money, and Martinsville City Council must agree to donate the block.

Academics would take top priority in terms of the building’s use, said NCI Executive Director William Wampler.

Yet the building would be “for the entire community to use,” said Wampler, a former state senator who took the helm at NCI in January.

The building would contain a 10,000-square-foot Grand Hall with a seating capacity of up to 450 people. Wampler 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.

Although plans are for the hall to have a catering kitchen, NCI has no plans to go into the food service business, Wampler emphasized.

Outdoor “green space” next to the Grand Hall could double the building’s capacity for hosting extremely large public events, he said. In bad weather, outside activities could be put under a large tent.

Wampler said research shows that facilities such as the Grand Hall are in demand, and talks he has had with officials from universities back that up.

He said he got the idea for the hall after he invited officials with the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission to visit the area but could not find space to hold up to 200 people.

The Grand Hall would be built in a way that partitions could divide it into three smaller areas.

Dewberry & Davis of Danville is designing the facility. Final architectural renderings are not finished.

Overall, the building is being designed to make room for academic programs and technology that align with regional and statewide career opportunities in advanced manufacturing, technology and health care, NCI officials said.

NCI will work with universities, industries and The Commonwealth’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Prince George County, near Petersburg, to determine what programs must be offered in the future “to make Martinsville-Henry County competitive in recruiting new jobs and investment,” particularly in those three areas, Wampler said.

The institute’s partner universities would provide faculty who would work in the building, he said.

Amid intentions for the building to improve local business and industry recruiting efforts, plans are for the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. to move there, according to NCI officials.

The building would have two bays with ceilings 30 feet to 40 feet high to accommodate technology for students to learn about high-tech industrial processes.

“We’re designing it generically” so it would appeal to various types of companies that — in addition to the bays being used for teaching — might use the space for research and development, Wampler said.

NCI Associate Director and Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins said the building would have space for up to 17 “academic learning spaces.”

“What you won’t find in this building is traditional classrooms,” she said, but rather “highly flexible spaces” that help students and instructors collaborate.

Businesses and industries report needing their future employees to be able to communicate and collaborate with others well, and the flexible spaces will promote those skills, Blevins said.

Computers and other modern learning technology “will be woven into all of the spaces” so students would not have to reserve the devices, and instructors would not have to reserve computer labs for certain lessons, she said.

She emphasized that younger students now expect such technology to be readily available at higher education institutions.

Renderings show the basically L-shaped building in the northwest corner of the block along Fayette and West Market streets. The main entrance faces a courtyard in the block. A large parking lot opens onto Moss Street and also borders West Church Street.

A small parking lot is pictured along Fayette, behind the part of the building containing the Grand Hall. Green space where public activities could be held is at the corner of Fayette and Moss streets. Renderings also show there will be enough leftover space near the corner of West Church and West Market to eventually erect a two-story, 16,000 square-foot building if needed.

The building would have “a lot of brick and a lot of wood” to mirror the appearance of other local buildings, Wampler said.

He said he hopes that samples of materials taken from any buildings demolished now and in the future can be incorporated into the design, such as for the courtyard.

“We have the opportunity to do something cool,” he said, in remembrance of buildings that may no longer be needed yet had important roles in the community’s history.

Wampler said he plans to pitch the building to city council when it meets Tuesday in hopes that the council will donate the block to NCI.

The block is named for the late Dr. Dana O. Baldwin, a prominent business and philanthropic leader whose physician’s office was there. The institute’s new building is to have an interior wall that will honor Baldwin on one side and recognize his legacy and “the community’s life and times” in his era on the other, Wampler said.

Baldwin died in 1972 at age 91.

According to Wampler, the block was chosen as the building’s site because NCI wants to keep developing its facilities uptown, and there are no suitable existing buildings anywhere else in the community.

For instance, “it would be very difficult to retrofit an existing building” with 40-foot ceilings for industrial bays, he said.

Should the council not donate the block, NCI can find other land in the area for the building, but design plans may have to be altered, Wampler said.

In raising money toward the building’s construction, he said, the institute’s foundation will approach possible sources such as The Harvest Foundation, the tobacco commission and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

He said it likely would be easier to raise the money privately than to get it from the state.

Because the specific programs and the extent to which they would be offered have not yet been determined, he cannot determine yet how many permanent jobs the building will bring to the local economy.

He estimated that construction would create about 200 temporary jobs.

Construction is estimated to take 30 to 36 months. Because the block has not yet been donated to NCI and funding for the building has not yet been raised, Wampler was unable to say how soon construction could start.


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