NCI building rising on Baldwin Block

September 29, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Rising on a hillside in uptown Martinsville is an ultramodern building which a state official predicts will become Virginia’s newest showplace.

The three-story, 52,000-square-foot building being erected on the Baldwin Block will be the first building specifically constructed for the New College Institute (NCI), which now operates from several locations in the business district.

Along with its modern design, the building will have the latest in classroom technology, including audiovisual and computer equipment, according to institute officials.

The Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the uptown visitors center also plan to move into the building. NCI and local officials want the building to impress visitors so much that it will convince them to come to the community to live, go to school and set up businesses.

At the least, NCI Executive Director William Wampler thinks, it will bring a lot of attention statewide for the institute as it strives to grow, as well as for the community as it seeks to recover from economic downturns in recent years.

For example, “I predict that governors will want to come here” to give speeches so they can show pride in and help promote Virginia’s newest government building, said Wampler, a former state senator.

Construction is progressing rapidly. Steel framework is up, some floors have been installed and glued laminated timber beams have been put into place to help carry the load of the roof, which is expected to be installed soon.

Just four months after the construction began, the building is about 40 percent complete, Wampler estimated.

“The bones are there,” he said, “and the building is really starting to come together now.” Weather permitting and if no problems occur, construction is expected to be completed next spring.

Wampler credited the progress largely to how the general contractor, New Atlantic Contracting of Winston-Salem, N.C., is handling the construction.

When rain is falling or the ground is wet, “the work doesn’t stop,” he said. Crews “find something to do” to move the project along.

The building’s total cost, including construction, equipment and furnishings, is expected to be about $18 million. Federal and state funds, plus grants and private donations to a fundraising campaign, are covering the expense.

NCI and EDC offices will be on the third floor, which overlooks uptown and nearby areas. The third floor also has “a gorgeous view of the mountains,” said NCI Associate Director/Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins.

She said she thinks that will help persuade business executives who visit the EDC offices to locate their companies here.

Educational space, including 11 classrooms, will be on the first and second floors. NCI provides students local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees conferred by universities statewide.

Programs that the institute is developing in advanced manufacturing, health care technology and entrepreneurism will be based in the building, along with the school’s administrative offices.

One of the second-floor classrooms will be the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Blevins described it as “a great thinking space” where people can ponder ideas for new products and inventions.

The center will feature a large glass window overlooking a large room on the first floor with industrial bays that will have ceilings 30 feet high and at least six items of high-tech industrial equipment. The bays will help advanced manufacturing students learn in a setting similar to modern industries.

Visiting corporate executives will be able to peer through the window to get “a bird’s-eye view of what our students will be doing every day,” Blevins said.

The Grand Hall will be on the first floor along with a lobby, the visitors center and a computer lab for students. Blevins said the hall is designed to be divided into up to three sections for separate events if necessary.

The hall will have a “warming kitchen” where caterers can finish preparing meals for special events, she said.

With the Grand Hall and courtyards that can accommodate large tents, the building should be able to host events for up to 1,000 people, Wampler said.

The building will have two main entrances. One will be on the first floor near a courtyard. The other will be on the second floor next to Fayette Street.

Through the use of open space and lots of glass, visitors will be able to see much of what goes on inside. Classroom walls will be built of “ribbed” glass that will let people see shadows of activities on the other side.

Along with classrooms, the building will have multiple spaces inside and out — including two semicircular “mini-ampitheaters” outside — where students can gather informally.

“We want to take every opportunity to bring people together” to learn how to work together, Blevins said, adding that collaborating and communicating abilities are two major skills that companies now want in their employees.

A prominent feature on the first floor, Blevins said, will be a “freestanding living history wall” featuring photos and information recalling the history of Martinsville and Henry County and the Baldwin Block in particular.

The block, which was vacant before the building’s construction started, is named after the late local physician and philanthropist Dr. Dana O. Baldwin. Many years ago, it was a center of commerce for the black community.

“It is very important to all of us at NCI,” Blevins said, “that we capture the vibrant history of the block as we grow into a more prominent institution that will attract students from across the state and elsewhere.”

Video screens may be incorporated into the wall’s design, she said.

Patrick Henry Community College will teach some classes in the building, particularly for programs in which students will transfer to the institute to continue after receiving initial credentials from the college.

Wampler said if the building ever needs to be expanded, an addition would have to be small because the building being constructed and 125-space parking lot take up most of the block.

But “we could do a little expansion,” perhaps a three-story wing with a total of about 5,000 square feet, if it becomes necessary, he said.


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