School officials will work toward establishing a welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.

 

With a boost from the Board of County Commissioners school officials will work toward establishing a welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.

With the BOCC approving the application for RESTORE Act funds on the part of Gulf District Schools, the district hopes to have the program in place by next fall.

“In a perfect world, next year at this time we will have a welding shop in Wewahitchka,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “But we all now what happens in a perfect world.”

The goal would be to effectively duplicate the highly-successful welding program led by Tommy Knox at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

Knox approached the school board more than a year ago with the idea of tapping RESTORE Act funds coming to the county to expand the welding program.

The major hurdle would be building the shop, which carries heavy equipment and power needs, was the cost of the shop.

The estimate of costs for the shop land between $250,000-$300,000, Norton said.

But, as Warren Yeager, the county’s RESTORE coordinator said at the time, the BP fines dollars were intended in significant measure for economic development.

That includes workforce programs, and given the potential for Eastern Shipbuilding to expand to Gulf County, for the development of the Port of Port St. Joe, welding has been a focus for county economic development leaders for several years.

A number of graduates from the Port St. Joe program, including Yeager’s grandson, have secured good-paying jobs using their welding skills and certification.

With more of the RESTORE direct allocation funds, so-called Pot 1, deposited recently, Yeager brought the proposal to the BOCC last week.

The board has the final say on how the county dollars are spent and unanimously approved applying for funding for the program.

All projects must ultimately be approved for funding by the U.S. Treasury.

The district’s task is to take care of the administration and instructor.

RESTORE funds, Yeager noted, can not be used for those purposes, but the district is in the midst of a transition on that front anyway.

The instructor of Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School’s certified woodworking program is retiring and Knox has an assistant who has been with him for years who is nearing certification as a welding instructor.

The district’s plan is to complete the phase-out of the woodworking course and transform the space it now fills into the welding shop.

The only cloud looming over Norton’s timeline is the district’s budget.

Norton was hesitant on adding a program during a school year, 2018-2019, which could potentially see a significant budget shortfall depending on whether the Florida Legislature continues down a path started this spring.

The shortfall could be wide enough the district would be forced to reduce the workforce, so adding a program next year could be out of reach.

However, following last Tuesday’s BOCC vote the dollars will be coming and what seemed a dream a year ago appears far more feasible.

“This is a big deal,” Norton said.