A Northern Virginia public television station, which was going to become a part of Mary Washington College's new campus in Stafford County, has indefinitely put its plans on hold because it can't afford to make the move.
Falls Church-based WNVT-TV (Channel 53), which airs "Sesame Street", "Masterpiece Theater" and other long-running classics, had planned to break ground this fall at the college's Route 17 site and begin operating a high-tech telecommunications center from there next summer.
"I will admit that we are disappointed," said Meta Braymer, dean of the James Monroe Center for Graduate and Professional Studies at Mary Washington. "We were certainly looking forward to potential community programs [with the station] and so forth."
WNVT was set to build a television studio and become a central part of the technical component of Mary Washington's new graduate and professional studies center.
But spiraling costs led to the station's postponement. Two years ago, when the idea was conceived, costs were projected at about $4.5 million, but that number has ballooned to between $8 million and $9 million, officials said, and WNVT can't afford that.
The postponement, or possible cancellation, of the move is a blow to the station and the school for what was foreseen as a mutually beneficial relationship. Students would have had an insight into the television world and an inside track to internships at the station, while the college was going to design new telecommunications majors around the station. WNVT would have gotten a slew of extra hands for a minimal price.
"We really didn't know what the possibilities might have been," Braymer said. "We won't have the TV studio for interns, but we're optimistic we can bring some of the same programs in other ways to the Stafford site."
The postponement also is a slap at the county's efforts to bolster its business and technology base.
Economic development officials in Stafford long have been touting the new branch of Mary Washington as the educational component of their efforts to include the county in the technology hotbed of other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.
Without the television station, though, the technical education possibilities at the center are diminished.
In lieu of WNVT, the college is considering implementing virtual classes offered by the Southern Regional Education Board (SRED). Those classes originate at 15 colleges, such as the University of Alabama, and are taught via the Internet, teleconferences or other electronic means.
School officials have not made a final determination about using the SRED classes, but they expect to soon, Braymer said.
"Faculty members in Stafford are looking to see if it has the right mix of technology and human interaction to incorporate it into the curriculum," she said. "We'll look at all sorts of possibilities to bring programs and courses into the area."