April 17, 2010

SBTC Client receives funding

Halifax County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution of support Monday night for the Modeling and Simulation Center of Excellence project at Riverstone and the Industrial Development Authority’s (IDA’s) loan application for $400,000.

The resolution received supervisors’ support following their joint meeting with the Halifax and South Boston town councils.

As part of the resolution, supervisors agreed to reimburse the IDA for the first 18 months of interest-only payments (totaling about $24,000) of the proposed loan from the Lake Country Development Corporation as an incentive to the project.

The loan will allow the IDA to accomplish the design and construction of the required M and S Center up-fits at Riverstone.

IDA is in the process of applying for $400,000 to up-fit approximately 6,000 square feet of first floor space in Suite 102 at Riverstone for the M and S Center’s use.

According to County Administrator Bryan Foster, the maximum principal amount of the loan will not exceed $400,000, and the IDA is seeking to finance this debt through LCDC at the maximum rate of 4 percent with up to a 15-year amortization schedule with no penalty for prepayment.

The partners in the M and S Center also have requested the IDA forego the lease payments for the first 18 months as an inducement to the project.

Prior to approving the resolution of support for the M and S Center Monday night, ED-5 Supervisor Doug Bowman introduced Brian Caldwell, a hydrogeologist with Tetra Tech who updated supervisors and South Boston and Halifax Town council members on progress being made at Riverstone.

“The county has been involved with the M and S Center, and (ED-6 Supervisor) Mr. Conner and I have attended some of their sessions to stay updated on it,” Bowman said.

He explained the M and S Summit held at Riverstone in January “was extremely successful” drawing attention and potential partners to the center.

“From the synergy of that summit has come a working memorandum of understanding between the IDA and Virginia Tech and Tetra Tech,” Bowman said. “The point here is there are a lot of interested players, and we hope it will be a real spark plug for the development of Riverstone Building One and other things.”

Caldwell told county and town representatives that since the M and S Center received a $1.2 million grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission in February, partners at Riverstone have been researching equipment and getting into the Virginia Tech “procurement bureaucracy.”

“We ordered the equipment on Friday and will have the first batch coming in and have it installed and interfaced by May 12,” he said.

The M and S Center currently has 10 people from Virginia Tech and Tetra Tech reporting regularly to the Riverstone Technology Building with five of the 10 being Halifax County residents, including Dr. Carol Inge, the center’s executive director.

“The other five are from Tetra Tech and are planning on relocating,” Caldwell said.
“Our staff has grown quite a bit in the last month. We now have a staff of 10 including four sub-contractors there on a weekly basis, two staff requisition positions, and four PhDs and six graduate students scheduled to come to work this summer,” he added.

He said as of today, all the space scheduled for up-fitting by October has been filled.
“We don’t have room for anymore,” Caldwell added.

However, he noted that over the course of the two years, the employee projection stands at 39.

Since its inception last year, partnerships have been developed at the center with Tetra Tech, Virginia Tech, Environmental Ingenuity, Conservation Management Institute and the Ward Burton Wildlife Federation, Northrup-Grummon and Frontline Testing Services.

“The current contractual awards that we have backlogged over the next two years total over $750,000,” Caldwell said, with Tetra Tech receiving modeling requests from offices in Pasadena, Calif., Lafayette, Calif., Oak Ridge, Tenn., Boulder, Colo., and Fairfax and Sterling, Va.

The Tetra Tech hydrogeologist said the center currently has modeling contracts with a defense contractor, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, Iowa Army Ammunition Plant, Army Ammunition Plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Anderson Army Depot in Alabama.

He showed county and town officials a stack of Dell computers that have been “souped up” to operate the center’s flex system which will include touch screen technology and tele-presence capable of bringing global communication to Riverstone.

The flex, according to Caldwell, will be the centerpiece of the whole unit at Riverstone.
“It is three walls that are 10 by 10, and they can fold in on themselves and project on the floor as well, so it gives you the full three-dimensional effect, or you can spread the three panels out to be 30 feet wide,” he said.

Halifax Town Councilman Jack Dunavant questioned the center’s affiliation with the military.
“I’m a little concerned that Big Brother is snooping on us. Rural areas are considered by big government and big corporations as ‘sacrifice zones,”’ he explained. “You know the government dumps the city sludge and looks to locate waste dumps in poor, rural areas. And I was just wondering if you are going to be an arm for that sort of thing, and we’re going to be sorry that you came here.”

Caldwell responded that he hopes leaders will not be sorry that Tetra Tech and the center’s other partners have located at Riverstone.

“These models we’re doing cost a lot of money, and all this equipment costs a lot of money. The budget for this type of work is with the military, but on the other hand, what we are trying to do is clean these sites up,” Caldwell added.

Tetra Tech is in the business of cleaning up military properties that have been abused, he said.

Dunavant pointed out the Eastern Compact, composed of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, is now looking for another dumpsite.

“Gentlemen, we are going to be subject to their scrutiny in the future,” Dunavant said.
He questioned whether Tetra Tech does modeling for people like those involved in the Eastern Compact.

“Yea, we do modeling of that type. We do environmental impact statements, and generally speaking those require some type of modeling,” Caldwell told Dunavant.

Being an engineer himself, Dunavant said the thing that bothers him about engineers, is that they never saw a problem they didn’t want to solve or think they couldn’t solve.
“But there are many insoluble problems out there, and I think we all need to be eternally aware of that,” he concluded.

Caldwell also pointed out that some of the work that will be conducted at the center in Riverstone will be highly confidential.

“I wouldn’t call it classified, classified, but they are pretty choosy about who they get to work on it. It’s not the kind of work where if I told you something, I would have to kill you,” he quipped.

In other business Tuesday night, supervisors approved a resolution supporting the establishment of a community based outpatient clinic for Halifax County veterans.

According to the resolution, it is estimated over 4,000 veterans currently reside in Halifax County, with many being disabled and facing significant health issues which require them to travel substantial distances to receive veteran’s health care.

County veterans are forced to travel over 200 miles round trip to veterans health facilities located in Richmond, which veterans advocates say places significant physical and economic burdens on them.

In an effort to provide better access to medical care for veterans, the board of supervisors is being asked to endorse the resolution supporting the establishment of a community-based veterans medical clinic to improve health care access for Halifax County veterans.

Bowman said Congressman Virgil Goode Jr. had expressed his support for the establishment of a veterans’ outpatient clinic in Halifax County.

“The people involved seem to think we have reason to be optimistic that we can get some sort of veterans’ support center located here,” Bowman said making the motion to approve the resolution which received unanimous approval from the five supervisors attending the Tuesday night joint meeting.

Supervisors R.E. “Dickie” Abbott, Lottie Nunn and Bryant Claiborne were absent.