Thomas Nelson Campus On Hold

Published: May 13, 2006

The Virgina Gazette

By Mary Vause

Thomas Nelson Community College’s plans to build a 120,000-square-foot campus on the Warhill tract are in limbo, waiting on passage of the state budget as well as $3.5 million more that’s unfunded.

The budget stalemate in the General Assembly threatens to push back the campus opening by a year. Fully $5.5 million earmarked for the construction project is stuck in budget negotiations. The project is the biggest local fallout of the state budget deadlock.

That’s only half the problem. Community colleges must have all money in hand before building projects can begin. That means the rest must be found before shovels can turn.

Originally, the campus was supposed to open in fall 2007 to coincide with the opening of the third high school, located next door at Warhill. Problems with securing the land pushed the opening into 2008, and funding problems delay the campus further.

“We’re trying to get clarification to make certain that it opens in 2008,” said Thomas Nelson President Charles Taylor in an interview Friday. “Right now I’m hoping for the spring of 2008 but it may be the fall. They’re having to basically go back and shift all the dates back because we lost a year getting everything secure and moving forward as far as the land transfer itself.”

Thomas Nelson officials are lobbying each local representative. Del. Melanie Rapp (R-96th) was optimistic Friday that the funds could be secured.

“Although the current budget does not contain a line item for this specific expenditure, I have been working with Delegate [Phil] Hamilton (R-93rd), the only House budget conferee from the Peninsula, to get language inserted in the final agreement that would allow Thomas Nelson to access funding reserved for cost overruns on such projects.

“The outlook is promising,” Rapp continued, “and I am optimistic that the House conferees will succeed in getting the necessary language in the budget to overcome the shortfall.”

Karen Petersen, executive vice chancellor for the Virginia Community College System, said that the project is proceeding as planned in anticipation of the state funding coming through.

“At this point we’re anticipating that the General Assembly will come through for us,” she said. “If the General Assembly, at the end of the day, doesn’t provide the shortfall funding, the project may have to go to ground zero.”

In the event of “ground zero,” Petersen said that Thomas Nelson and the Virginia Community College System will have three options:

* Tell architects to stop and reconfigure the project to a much smaller scope, which would reduce the number of classrooms or the size of the campus.

* Put everything on hold until the 2007 General Assembly session. “With cost escalation factors, we’d just be back to where we are now with another shortfall,” Petersen said.

* Fundraise in the local community to secure the necessary money.

The community college system has asked the General Assembly for $59 million total.

“All colleges have a stake in that, and all legislators are agitating for that because we’ve gotten a lot of support from them,” said Petersen. “I haven’t heard any [legislators] say they’re not supportive of providing money. It’s just a matter of reaching a solution on the overall budget.”

Taylor remained positive about the project.

“I want to assure people that now that we have the land transfer agreement, we are moving forward with the project,” he said. “I want to thank the chancellor, the state, the local board, James City County and our elected officials for their commitment to this.”

Copyright © 2006, Virginia Gazette

Reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette

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