NCI seeks input on building

April 15, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

High-tech learning would be the main purpose of a building that the New College Institute (NCI) wants to build on the Baldwin Block uptown.

Design plans for the building can be examined during a public hearing that NCI will hold at 6 p.m. Monday at Albert Harris Elementary School on Smith Road in Martinsville.

Monday’s public hearing will include a presentation by NCI officials followed by a question-and-answer time, NCI Executive Director William Wampler said. People will be able to view the building plans as they arrive, he said.

Wampler said the roughly 50,000 square-foot building could be used for any degree programs offered at the institute.

However, it is being designed to accommodate advanced manufacturing and health care curriculums needing the latest advances in technology, he said.

For advanced manufacturing programs, the building would have either two or three industrial bays — depending on what NCI ends up being able to afford, Wampler pointed out — with high-tech production line equipment.

NCI is talking with various companies to determine the types of equipment needed for the bays, as well as the potential for companies to use the bays for research and development when they are not needed for academics. Wampler declined to identify the companies involved.

“You cannot have a $100 million piece of equipment at the New College” because neither NCI nor the state, which funds the institute, could afford it, Wampler said. “But you can have parts of the machine to train (people) on.”

Equipment in the bays “should be generic enough” to reflect needs of all high-tech companies, he said, but it should be specific enough to provide students a “simulation of how you engineer” products.

NCI aims to prepare students for advanced manufacturing careers not only because of the Martinsville area’s manufacturing heritage, but also because high-tech manufacturers already are in Virginia and are expected to expand their presence and/or lure other firms supplying them parts and materials.

Wampler noted one high-tech manufacturer now setting up operations in Henry County — RTI International, which makes titanium components for aircraft, including the entire Airbus commercial aircraft fleet.

“If we (NCI and the community at-large) can help make a company like RTI successful here,” Wampler said, “it will be one of our strongest calling cards to other manufacturers.”

Other high-tech manufacturers in the state include Rolls Royce, which has a jet engine plant in Prince George County near Petersburg, and Airbus, whose American headquarters is in Herndon near Washington, D.C.

Wampler, a former state senator, said the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which has helped fund economic development projects in Southside, expects “the future downstream supply chain (of companies making materials for Rolls Royce and its suppliers) will locate ... away” from Prince George County.

He said information that he has seen shows Airbus “literally will spend billions of dollars” in the next six years on downstream supply, and Southside must make itself able to reap some benefits from that investment.

For that reason, he said, Southside “must provide an educated work force with the skill sets needed to produce” not only components for Rolls Royce engines, but also parts for Airbus jets and other high-tech industries.

Wampler said Henry County and Martinsville must “aggressively pursue” as many high-tech companies as it can. But even if NCI’s efforts result in only one such company coming to the area, the efforts will be worthwhile.

One firm that would invest, say, $100 million in machinery and equipment would “pay a lot of bills and alleviate a lot of problems” that have occurred due to declines in the local tax base, he said.

NCI is working with universities, industries and The Commonwealth’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Prince George County to determine what programs are needed for such a curriculum, officials have said.

Each of NCI’s university partners has been impressed with the proposed building and is potentially interested in offering courses toward advanced manufacturing degree programs there, Wampler said.

Having a prestigious new building would help in NCI’s quest to eventually become a branch campus of one university, or perhaps even a stand-alone university, Wampler said.

So would having an advanced manufacturing degree program, he said.

If NCI can produce graduates with degrees in high-tech manufacturing fields, “a lot of other institutions will see us as relevant” and pay more attention to NCI, he added.

The building also would have a Grand Hall where public events could be held, but only if the space is not needed for classes and other learning activities, according to Wampler.

He said he envisions the Grand Hall at times being used for events such as job fairs, music and theater performances, meetings and conferences. The hall would have partitions that could divide it into three separate areas, design plans show.

The hall would be “designed to support academic offerings,” with each of the three areas having modern learning technology, Wampler said. (See related story.)

Wampler said most colleges and universities have such facilities that can be used for learning as well as special events.

The three-story building would have two main entrances — one facing a large courtyard near a large parking lot bordering West Church and Moss streets and another along Fayette Street near a smaller courtyard.

The building is expected to cost $10 million to $15 million. Before it can be built, the institute’s private fundraising arm, the New College Foundation, has to come up with the money.

Also, Martinsville City Council must donate the Baldwin Block to NCI. The council will consider doing that during upcoming meetings.


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