Clarion still going with vets project

A Clarion University official who has been coordinating the school’s partnership with the U.S. Veterans Educational Institute seemed unfazed Tuesday to learn that USVEI’s plans to establish its main location at the former Bon Secours hospital might have fallen through.

“Physical facilities are part of it, but they are not the driving force today,” said Ronald Nowaczyk, provost and academic vice president.

For now, the driving force is identification and recruitment of veterans who want to participate in the program, identification of programs they’d be interested in taking and figuring out the best ways to deliver the educational content, according to Nowaczyk.

“Then we’ll have a better idea in terms of a facility to make it work,” he said. “I think there’s time [for that],” given that classes aren’t scheduled to start until fall.

USVEI’s plans to buy Bon Secours from UPMC Altoona fell apart over the weekend when delays in getting clear title and cleaning up mold found in the pavilion area of the former hospital prevented USVEI from obtaining naming rights money before expiration of the hospital’s latest extension of an option to buy the property for $2.5 million.

Without the option to ensure the hospital’s availability, naming rights negotiations are impossible, said USVEI Chairman Dennis Butts.

Without the naming rights money, he couldn’t buy, he said.

A hospital spokesman said the hospital had been patient with Butts but needed to put the property back on the market, although he praised the project and left open the possibility that Butts could still buy the site.

USVEI plans to go forward with its plans, using the former Ramada Inn, now the “USVEI Learning Center,” for the classes and dorms that were to be in the former hospital building, Butts said.

Nowaczyk had not actually gotten to the point of examining Bon Secours, and had only spent one evening at the Ramada, he said.

Recently, he’s begun discussing with USVEI staff educational delivery techniques, including interactive TV, online learning or face-to-face learning, Nowaczyk said.

There might be an instructor or two stationed or coming periodically to Altoona, and interactive TV classes occasionally broadcast from Altoona to Clarion, instead of vice versa, he said.

He’s discussed study groups – including the desirability of mixed groups that include vets here and regular students at Clarion, connected with interactive TV.

“That’s real life,” he said.

He’s discussed tutoring, academic advice and social support.

He’s being sensitive to the needs of the students who will be in the USVEI program, he said.

“I want to make sure the veterans succeed,” he said.

Blair County’s chief economic development official was disappointed about the potential loss of Bon Secours for the project but thinks it might still happen.

“Would we have liked to have seen it happen?” asked Marty Marasco, CEO of Altoona Blair County Development Corp. “Absolutely.”

But it doesn’t mean “it couldn’t resurrect itself,” Marasco said.

He understands “what the hospital wanted to do,” he said. “Get it out there in the event there are other interested parties.”

There were issues on both sides, Marasco said.

“A project that at the present time just didn’t match up,” he said.

That failure to match up is not going to cause Clarion “to rule out this opportunity at this point,” Nowaczyk said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.