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Pfeiffer readies to shovel downtown dirt

January marks the official groundbreaking for the construction of Pfeiffer University’s new graduate campus in downtown Albemarle.

Another dose of good news arrived when it was recently announced a local contractor was awarded the project. Stokes Construction represented the lowest bid, which ranged from $11.5-$13.2 million. Five firms were pre-qualified to bid on the project.  Per USDA requirements, the bidding process was public.

The all-in cost of the project, which includes furnishings and equipment, is $16 million, according to Colleen Perry Keith, Pfeiffer president.

“Stokes Construction was, indeed, the low bidder for the project and to see the smile on Doug Stokes’ face was priceless when he got the news,” Keith said. “I don’t think this is ‘just a job’ for Mr. Stokes. This is something he dearly wants to do for his community. Pfeiffer is very proud to be partnering with Stokes on this project and excited at what it will mean for our community.”

Pfeiffer’s downtown campus at 245 E. Main St. is anticipated to be a shot in the arm for the county seat’s economy. In fact, there’s already evidence between local real estate sales and renovations.

“The downtown location for Pfeiffer should spur economic development in the general Albemarle area, more eating places, more shops, more services, and that kind of growth will help Pfeiffer’s Misenheimer campus as the kind of businesses that open will be of interest to our undergraduate students in Misenheimer,” Keith said.

Main campus students are always looking for places close by to shop and dine, which makes Albemarle a desirable destination, she added.

“We sincerely hope that others will embrace an entrepreneurial spirit and develop housing and retail services that our students can utilize,” Keith said. “A rising tide lifts all boats and that is what we hope the impact of this new downtown building will have. We would love to see people in Albemarle be able to financially benefit from having an influx of young people who want to go out to eat, socialize, and purchase goods in our community. We are pretty sure that our existing downtown retail businesses will see an uptick in traffic.”

Pfeiffer’s ceremonious groundbreaking and planned start of construction is tempered by a couple of hurdles. The least of those is one more approval by the local historic commission.

Next comes the current federal government shutdown. Since Pfeiffer’s funding stems from a loan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the university is dependent on federal operations to distribute funds.

“We have to wait for President Trump to reopen the federal government so that the USDA can give their next round of approvals,” Keith said.

Otherwise, construction is set to begin in January with Pfeiffer set to take possession of the building by May 2020.

The graduate campus will house Pfeiffer’s physician’s assistant (PA) and occupational therapy (OT) programs.

Pfeiffer’s PA program will begin in January 2020 on the Misenheimer campus and move into its Albemarle location as soon as Pfeiffer has possession of the building. Students are anticipated to be in the Albemarle building in May 2020. They will, however, move to the Albemarle area months before in order to begin the program in January 2020.

University leaders are in the process of retooling the OT program for a doctoral level program. Consequently, few specifics are available, though the building has been designed with specialized classrooms in place, Keith said.

The groundbreaking is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 17 at the construction site with a reception to immediately follow at Roger Martin’s gallery across the street.