Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 1, 2014

BC: Dental school project on hold until funding is approved

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Bluefield College is suspending work on a proposed dental school project planned for the Bluestone Regional Business and Technology Park, college officials said Monday.

Tazewell County officials have informed the college that the county has decided to suspend funding for the public-private project and terminate a memorandum of understanding agreement, Bluefield College President Dr. David Olive said.

As a result, Olive said the college has put the dental school project on hold until a decision on a funding application is made this fall by the Virginia Tobacco Indem-nification and Community Revitalization Commission.

“While our board of trustees remains supportive of the dental school project, we are suspending our activities until we know funding for the construction of the facility has been obtained and we have a new memorandum of understanding with the county,” Olive said. “This was a joint venture from the beginning, and it isn’t practical for the college to take the project forward on its own.”

Olive said, together the college and the county have funded operations for the dental school since the fall of 2012 with the help of gifts and pledges from numerous supporters, but together can no longer continue to fund operations without added support. Olive said the most vital piece of funding the college and the county are waiting on for construction is a $19.2 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

The dental project board met Monday evening to discuss the issue, said Charlie Stacy, chairman of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors.

“Once we met with the college tonight, the college is indicating it is not their intention to pull out as the academic partner for the dental school project. The college has simply suspended the dental school project until such time as the tobacco commission awards funding to the project. This decision by the college was made in part because the memorandum of understanding between Bluefield College and the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, the Industrial Development Authority and BPI expired effective June 30, 2014,” Stacy told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph after the meeting.

Chris Shoemaker, a spokesman for BC, said the college is of the opinion that the tobacco commission grant application is still applicable.

“The college’s opinion is that the application is still pending with the tobacco commission,” Shoemaker said. “We will continue to have some operating activity, and continue to look for more funds to support the project.”

Olive said the suspension of dental school operations will continue at least until the tobacco commission acts on the funding application and a new memorandum of understanding is approved between the college and county.

Without the memorandum of understanding with the county and with the suspension of operations, Olive said a consultant and three employees will no longer be engaged by the college. Olive said college officials notified the impacted individuals on Monday, which is the day the original two-party agreement expired. Among those affected is Dr. Francis Serio, the inaugural dean of the proposed dental school, Olive said.

“The unfortunate outcome of the suspension of operations is the impact it has on several individuals’ lives,” Olive said. “The loss of Dr. Serio and his leadership will be a challenge for us, as well as the loss of knowledge and work product provided by the other employees and consultant.”

Stacy said the news of the college suspending the dental school project is a setback to ongoing efforts to develop the new Bluestone Technology Park, which is located near Bluefield, Va. The park — once envision as a location for high-tech industries — remains vacant.

“If Bluefield College is pulling out that certainly will be a setback,” Stacy said. “If Bluefield College is unable to remain as the academic partner for whatever reason, we certainly would explore another academic partner before we would completely terminate the project. But I don’t know if we could continue on this cycle of tobacco commission consideration. So the timeline for the dental school will certainly be washed away if BC pulls out because a new academic partner would have to come in and make a decision on the timeline.”

— Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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