Gulf District Schools continued to find purchase with Triumph Gulf Coast for the expansion of workforce programs in the high schools.

The board of Triumph last week approved moving to term sheet negotiations, one step from a formal grant award, on a $250,000 grant for the district to expand the welding program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.

In addition, the board approved staff moving to term sheet negotiations for a $125,000 grant to expand existing agriscience curriculum at WHS.

“We are one step closer on both,” said Lori Price, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction with Gulf District Schools.

Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton said he hoped a teleconference scheduled for this week would iron out any last details on the agriscience grant and said the grant paperwork for the welding program had been all but finalized.

“We remain optimistic everything will fall into place,” Norton said.

Moving to term sheets on both projects comes after the district was awarded a Triumph grant to establish a drone program at both high schools; the Gulf County School Board recently approved that contract with Triumph.

The district moved to expand welding to Wewahitchka two years ago, hoping to receive RESTORE Act dollars to fund the expansion.

The application was moved to Triumph last year.

Wewahitchka students have a welding station in the old woodworking shop; the Triumph grant is largely earmarked for expanding and retrofitting that facility to host an expanded welding program.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $345,000, with the district assuming costs of maintenance, utilities and salaries for an instructor and paraprofessional.

In its application, the District noted that the welding profession would be in high demand after Hurricane Michael and as the Port of Port St. Joe is developed.

The need for welders is expected to grow by 26 percent by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In 2017, median pay for welders was $40,240 per year, $19.35 per hour.

“Hurricane Michael left unfathomable damage in its wake, but in doing so created more demand for skilled labor such as welders,” read a press release from Triumph.

The grant to expand the Ag-sciences program at WHS is also linked to the district’s upcoming implementation of a drone program at both high schools as one of the direct applications of drones is with agriculture.

Agriculture applications are also a prime area for the unmanned systems being designed and manufactured by Skyborne Technology, which has sites on both ends of the county.

The Triumph funds would help expand a classroom-centered program that would fold in a variety of skills to make students more employable, including small-engine repair, carpentry and animal husbandry.

Combined with the drone curriculum, students will be able to pursue several different industry certifications.

The total cost of the Ag-sciences program is $175,000, with the district providing salary and benefits for an instructor.

Triumph Gulf Coast was established by the Florida Legislature to disburse some $1.5 billion over the next 15 years in the eight Northwest Florida counties most impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.