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VCU eyes reuse of old hospital for disaster training / August 01, 2018

VCU Health Systems in Richmond is seeking $50,000 from the tobacco commission to study the reuse of the former Community Memorial Healthcenter hospital facility on Buena Vista Circle in South Hill as a disaster preparedness and training center.

VCU’s grant request is one of three area applications to the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, formerly known as the Virginia Tobacco Commission. Also seeking funding are the Virginia Growth Alliance, of which Mecklenburg County is a member, and the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority, which wants $725,000 to retrofit an industrial building for a prospective aerospace company based in the United Kingdom.

Grants Director Tim Pfohl said last week the applications are too recent for the commission staff to have issued recommendations. “We won’t have staff recommendations for several weeks,” said Pfohl of the requests, which were submitted in time for a July 20 deadline. The next meeting of the commission is set for September 19.

The old CMH facility, built in 1954, was shuttered November 11, 2017 when VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital moved to its $93 million, state-of-the-art medical campus on the north end of South Hill.

Throughout construction and since opening the new hospital, VCU Community Memorial Hospital CEO Scott Burnette and the hospital board promised to put forward a plan for the adaptive reuse of the 1954 Hill-Burton Act community-owned hospital building. Burnette promised, “We’re definitely not going to leave an abandoned facility in the middle of town.”

According to the application submitted late last week to the tobacco commission, the Department of Surgery, the Department of Emergency Medicine at VCU Health Systems and VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital are looking to develop a “comprehensive training facility to serve the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond in the areas of disaster preparedness, clinical certification, pre-hospital education, and other simulation and education activities. The Training Center would repurpose part of the currently unoccupied old Community Memorial to create a realistic training environment.”

Currently, according to VCU, there is a lack of adequate preparation for disaster training and response in rural areas. Thus, the center will focus on training medical professionals and first responders in the counties of Mecklenburg, Brunswick, Lunenburg, Charlotte, Halifax, and Prince Edward.

The money, if approved, would cover one half of the architect and engineering fees that make up phase one of the project. VCU estimates the total cost of phase one to be $100,000, and take six months to complete, after which project coordinators expect to have detailed space plans for budgeting purposes.

Once plans are ready, the applicant noted its intention to return to the Tobacco Commission for another $500,000 to renovate the property. Phase two monies would be used for facility renovation, equipment costs, marketing expenses, and operating expenses.

As a self-described leader in central Virginia with expertise in pre-hospital education and continuing education certification courses, VCU Health says it will leverage this expertise to develop a facility that offers a “unique and much needed real life environment to simulate both a horizontal and a vertical approach to a hospital disaster response with full continuation of care response from pre-hospital to Emergency Department to the patient care floor.” Course offerings would include paramedic training and certifications, hospital certifications and disaster preparedness courses for police, fire, EMS and hospital staff.

Jeff Reed with Virginia Growth Alliance (VGA) is asking for $750,000 for a $1.5 million marketing campaign “to increase the number of prospect visits” to the area by businesses and industries looking to relocate.

VGA is a regional marketing organization covering Appomattox, Bedford County, Bland, Brunswick, Buckingham, Campbell, Carroll, Charlotte, Cumberland, Dinwiddie, Floyd, Grayson, Greensville, Halifax, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Prince Edward, Smyth, Sussex, and Wythe Counties and the cities of Danville, Emporia, and Galax.

The VGA application notes counties and cities that make up the marketing group “represent approximately 50% of the Commonwealth (geographically) yet has one the smallest populations and highest unemployment rates, averaging over 2% higher than the state average.”

“More needs to be done to raise awareness of the region,” Reed notes in the application.

VGA, in its application explains the need for these marketing funds saying, “pooling resources allows all to participate in conversations, as well as opportunities, that otherwise would not be reachable. However, those resources, even pooled, are as limited as local budgets. So a grant that would afford the opportunity to raise marketing efforts to the next level could be a game changer. Further, this grant will not only help to market the assets of Southside Virginia, but done well, it will help to promote the State as a whole.”

Next door, the Halifax County IDA wants $725,000 to build out space either at the old Daystrom furniture factory in South Boston or at a yet-to-be constructed shell building for an advanced manufacturing company looking to establish operations in the United States. It is seen as the first step to attracting complementary aerospace businesses.

“Project Noon” is described as an “advanced manufacturing prospect based in the UK [United Kingdom] with over three decades of successful operation in the aerospace industry” that has “chosen Halifax County for their first U.S. operation.”

Matt Leonard, Halifax County IDA’s programmatic contact, estimated the company would add at least 50 new jobs paying an average salary of $41,000 to the local economy and generate $3.4 million in tax revenues for the county.

The total budget for the project is set at $1.45 million and should be completed by March 1, 2019.

The application indicates two potential sites for the project — one existing, the Daystrom building, and one, a shell building, ready for construction. Leonard made clear in the IDA’s application that money would be used to retrofit either site, not for new construction.

He wrote, “the new shell building is ready to break ground in the Southern Virginia Technology Park,” but the money, if approved would be used not for construction but to customize whichever site is chosen by the manufacturing company.

Project Noon is a strategic economic development priority for South Boston and Halifax County because it continues local efforts “to recover form a long economic downward slide that began in the last decade of the 20th century.” It is described as a “step beyond an economic development strategy. It is, in fact, an economic goal to add new advanced manufacturing jobs that build on our legacy manufacturing workforce and recently established manmade assets.”

Leonard summed up the importance of the grant request: “We have slowed that [long economic downward] slide and are beginning to reverse it. In the last five years our unemployment rate has dropped, and our existing industries are beginning to expand. However, we must continue to attract and support the development of new businesses that further diversify and strengthen our economic base. Project Noon is a prime opportunity to do this.”

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