Warner: Keep up college push

December 19, 2004

Bulletin Staff Writer

Gov. Mark Warner put money for a Southside university in his budget proposal because he wants "the momentum for ... (the New College of Virginia) to continue."

In a phone interview from Richmond on Friday, Warner said he remembers the rainy August 2003 day when he met with hundreds of displaced Pillowtex workers after the company declared bankruptcy.

"There is no community in the state I feel a greater connection with than Martinsville and Henry County," he said.

The community's economic hardships have compelled him to help create jobs in this area, he said.

"But we have to do more," Warner said, adding that is why he wants "the momentum for Dr. Carrier's idea to continue."

The Harvest Foundation has issued a $50 million challenge to the state to open a college or university in Henry County or Martinsville within two years. It hired Dr. Ronald Carrier, former president of James Madison University, who has devised the New College of Virginia, a 28-month bachelor's degree program that also includes Internet/weekend schedules.

Warner's proposed state budget, released on Friday, allocates $1.5 million for a university in Southside and about $500,000 for the state Museum of Natural History.

Earlier last week, Ellen Qualls, Warner's press secretary, said the $1.5 million will be used to help establish a college in Southside once the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, The Harvest Foundation and others agree on the college's concept.

Warner called NCV "a very interesting" concept, but said "we need to make sure that whatever is done (regarding the college) is well thought out."

He reiterated some of his concerns about NCV expressed in a letter Tuesday announcing the funding ? such as how will the college fit in with existing institutions of higher learning in the region and the practicality of its innovative ideas.

"In the world of higher education, this idea (for NCV) is moving at lightning speed," Warner said, adding that these questions have to be answered for the idea to find acceptance. "There are not enough legislators in Southside to get this done" without a greater cross-section of support for funding in the General Assembly.

In addition, he said, reasons for supporting the college have to be made to university presidents who can argue that supporting another state institution diminishes already limited resources.

Nevertheless, "the questions can be answered," he added.

On the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Warner said "too often we build facilities but don't put much money towards their operation."

According to a press release announcing Warner's budget, the nearly $500,000 allocated for the museum will go "to cover utility costs and additional staff associated with the new ... facility."

Construction of the facility to house the museum got underway in June on Starling Avenue.

The facility was funded by a Virginia Public Building Authority bond bill for $15 million, signed by Warner almost two years ago. It is scheduled to open in late 2006.

Although Warner's budget does not include funding for the continued widening of U.S. 58 and construction of the proposed Interstate 73, the budget does provide more than $824 million for the Virginia Department of Transportation, "the largest cash infusion for transportation in many years," the release states.

To deal with the department's economic difficulties, Warner said he is trying some innovative approaches in funding. He hopes that these approaches will encourage local governments and the private sector to help with some highway projects, such as the widening of U.S. 58.

As for whether Warner expects his budget to meet with the partisan wrangling it faced with last year over tax reforms, he laughed and said, "If you had the perfect budget, you would still have legislators change it."


Select News Year: