December 4, 2013

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

New College Institute (NCI) officials are anxiously awaiting May 14.

If weather in the coming months poses no major problems, construction of NCI’s new building on the Baldwin Block in uptown Martinsville is expected to be declared complete that day, and keys to the structure will be handed to the institute, according to Executive Director William Wampler.

Construction is about 50 percent finished, and so far there have been no major delays, Wampler told NCI’s board on Tuesday.

The three-story, 52,000-square-foot building will be the first one erected specifically for NCI, which now occupies spaces in several uptown buildings.

Wampler said construction is progressing so fast that the building’s exterior appearance seems to change about every three days.

In a few weeks, an electrical transformer will arrive at the construction site. That will allow the building to be heated so construction crews can get more actively involved in the interior construction, he said.

Programs being developed in advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurism and telemedicine will be based in the building, which also will house the institute’s administrative offices and have space for special events.

The building will be “cutting edge” in its appearance, design and furnishings and have the newest classroom technology, according to Wampler.

Also, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the uptown visitor’s center plan to relocate to the building.

Wampler called the building a “one-stop shop” for economic development. He said executives from companies interested in locating in the area will be able to meet with EDC officials, see how NCI is preparing students to meet needs of local industries and view local industrial sites all in one place.

From window openings on the third floor, building visitors can look north and see the Patriot Centre industrial park in the distance, a tour of the construction site on Tuesday revealed.

NCI board member and state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Glade Hill, said during the tour that the state should be proud that it has invested in the building.

The total construction cost, including equipment and furnishings, has been estimated at $18 million. About $17 million in federal and state funds, plus public and private grants, has been raised so far.

A $2 million “Building on Baldwin” fundraising campaign continues. Right now, the campaign is focused on soliciting corporate donations.

Debbie Lewis, development officer for NCI’s private fundraising entity, the New College Foundation, said the campaign will go public in January.

Wampler said NCI is seeking grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Small Business Administration to help pay costs for equipping the building and maintaining it.

The block where the building is being erected is named after the late local physician and philanthropist Dr. Dana O. Baldwin, who operated a clinic and pharmacy there. Although it was bare before the construction started, the block once was a commercial center for the local black community.

NCI is working with the Fayette Area Historical Initiative to find ways to tell the history of the block, as well as the overall history of Henry County and Martinsville, on an inside wall, Wampler said.

Bricks discovered and dug up at the construction site, thought to have been part of Baldwin’s building, will be incorporated into the new NCI building, along with roughly 21,000 bricks reclaimed from a local Bassett Furniture Industries plant that was demolished, according to Wampler. However, he said he is not yet sure exactly how the old bricks will be used.

Board member Jay Edelen predicted that the new building will become a state and local showplace. He said other cities of Martinsville’s size will be envious.

In the coming year, Wampler said, NCI will try to convince the state to fund several new positions connected to the building.

One position, he said, is an “advanced manufacturing equipment specialist” to oversee devices used to teach students how modern manufacturing lines function.

Other new staff members needed include a security worker and a facilities manager who can troubleshoot and fix problems that occur with the building and its equipment, he added.

Wampler did not say how much he thinks the positions would cost. Stanley asked how much the advanced manufacturing equipment specialist may cost in particular. Wampler was vague but acknowledged it could be expensive.

“You want someone ... who knows how to run the equipment” but also has some academic experience, and such a person could be “hard to find,” which may necessitate a nationwide search, Wampler said.

“It’s a critical hire,” he said.

Stanley said NCI should hire someone who is committed to help the institute develop and grow the advanced manufacturing program, not someone who is likely to quit in a couple of years after being hired.

Because government jobs typically pay less than those in the private sector, Stanley said it could be hard to lure such a specialist away from an industry.

NCI also wants the state to fund a chief compliance officer who would take part in negotiating and renegotiating contracts with partner universities to make sure they meet the institute’s expectations, officials said.

Associate Director/Chief Academic Officer Leanna Blevins said universities always have met NCI’s expectations as stipulated in agreements.

Still, she said, “you have to stay on them” sometimes to meet expectations in a timely manner.

An example that Blevins mentioned is when universities have to document enrollment in academic programs and do other work necessary to help the programs get Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation.