Another appointment for Jim McKnight could mean good things for the Gulf/Franklin campus of Gulf Coast State College as well as the broader community.
McKnight, the director of the county’s Economic Development Coalition, was voted by his peers to become chairman of the Gulf Coast State College Board of Trustees.
The election for chair and vice-chair came last week as the board visited and held its monthly meeting at the Gulf/Franklin campus.
McKnight, who been serving as board chair on an interim basis, succeeds Katie Patronis, whose term had expired.
“I am honored,” McKnight said. “We do things right here. We do everything we can in the interest of our students.”
The college board includes two other Gulf County residents, businessmen Ralph Roberson and David Warriner.
They were somewhat apologetic about forcing other board members to make the drive, and see all the damage between Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe.
“We have lost a lot of stuff, but we have not lost our faith,” Roberson said.
McKnight noted the college has a strong economic development mission, beginning with college President Dr. John Holdnak.
He said the college is a driving force behind several Bay County economic development initiatives and also Gulf County’s partnership with Skyborne Technology, which last week was fabricating drones inside the county’s Industrial Park.
Holdnak told the board that the college saw a drop of about 8 percent in full-time equivalent students for the fall semester due to Hurricane Michael and is projecting that enrollment for the year will be down 16 percent compared to projections.
“It’s a pretty big negative for us,” Holdnak said, adding that the financial cost will be at least $1.2 million.
That would break down to $400,000 for return of tuition or fees for the fall and a $600,000 reduction in tuition and fees for the spring.
Holdnak said college officials are examining all options to fund the coming year.
“It will take a lot of finesse on the budget side, and we are looking at legislative solutions,” he said.
But, Holdnak said, the decrease in enrollment could have been significantly worse.
He applauded efforts by the college’s foundation to expand and update scholarships ($1.5 million in emergency funding) for current students.
“We made it hard for current students to leave,” Holdnak said.
Amazingly, considering the damage inflicted in Gulf County, the Gulf/Franklin campus emerged from Michael with minimal damage, particularly compared to the main campus.
Holdnak provided a few statistics:
* 28 of 28 buildings sustained damage; one building being deemed a near total loss;
* $44 million in repairs thus far and counting;
* 156,000 2x2 ceiling tiles have been replaced;
*17,000 sheets of dry wall have already gone up in buildings.