Members of the Gulf Coast State College board of trustees had a chance this month to see first hand the Eastpoint campus where a nice-sized chunk of the college’s student body is receiving their high school education.

The tour of the Franklin County School’s kindergarten through 12th grade campus, conducted by Principal George Oehlert, was the postscript to the monthly meeting held the morning of Nov. 8 in the high school media center.

The trustees’ meetings are frequently rotated amongst the three counties - Bay, Gulf and Franklin - served by the state college. This month’s meeting was the farthest east the trustees have to travel, prompting several of them to remark they now had a newfound appreciation for the travel demands of Franklin County trustees.

“And our service area goes another 25 miles to the east,” Board Chairman Denise Butler reminded her colleagues.

Butler, a former teacher, principal and school board member in the Franklin County School District, opened the meeting with an overview of the two decade-long history of the consolidation process.

“It’s a testimony to folks here who understand how important combining the two high schools has been” she said. “It’s not an easy task for two communities with such different traditions.”

One theme woven through the three-page agenda, and bundle of paperwork associated with the many agenda items, was the excitement building for the estimated June 2013 completion of the 93,000 square foot $32 million Advanced Technology Center (ATC).

Included, and approved, was change order #16 that called for the construction manager, GAC Contractors Inc. out of Panama City, and the contractor, HJ High Construction Co. out of Orlando, to revise the contract down to $27.1 million.

This was due to a $4.8 million reduction in the first 15 change orders, and a $55,210 drop in change order 16. This last drop came about as a result of about $400,000 in savings for having the owner direct purchase ATC building materials, and $345,000 in additional costs for having to buy culinary kitchen equipment.

“The ATC “is going to make a difference. It’s going to be a staple for providing jobs,” said trustee Dan Estes.

During the portion of the meeting where trustees reflected on the recent election, he said that “America is going to do well. We’re part of that. The world may go through a recession but we don’t have to participate.”

Trustee Ralph Roberson noted the dozen or so students enrolled in a new welding class at the Gulf-Franklin Center. “That’s a tremendous help, and it shows you what the college can do in assisting with job creation at the county level,” he said.

Roberson later presented a giant check to GCSC to represent the $5,000 that the Port St. Joe certified public accountant and his wife Margaret donated to the ATC Excellence Fund.

“We have a lot of needs,” he said. “This is going to be a great thing and we’re glad to play a small part in that.”

Dr. Jim Kerley, president of Gulf Coast, later in the meeting presented Butler with a cap with the letter “MIT” across the brow, representative of talks now under way with the Massachusetts Institute of technology regarding a potential partnership in connection with the ATC.

Butler commented on Gulf Coast official’s recent trip to Boston, to a conference intended to boost academic performance at community colleges. “Kids here are not prepared for the rigor of the next level of education,” she said. “This is about changing a culture (and educating) for jobs we don’t even know what they look like today.

“This is a very diverse region,” she said. “Don’t underestimate the power and strength of the retirees who are here.”

Both she and trustee Jim McKnight said they would reach out to Halsey Beshears, the newly elected state representative.

“Let’s get him in our camp,:” said McKnight. “I know he’s a friend of community colleges.”

The college agreed to approve the hiring of Panama City attorney Timothy Warner, at an hourly rate of $250, in the event he is needed to defend the school in a lawsuit filed against it, and Raymond Jackson, by Susan Hernandez. Details of the case were shared in an executive session conducted after the regular meeting.

The trustees received a report from Loretta Costin, in which she outlined details of a three-year strategic plan for the Gulf Franklin Center, over which she is director.

“My goal is we continue to grow,” she said. “I’m getting out to Gulf and Franklin Counties, and meeting with employers. We’ll capture what cities want and need. We’re implanting as we go.”

One example that both she and Roberson cited was a recently created welding class for about a dozen students. “Clearly that was something that we heard,” she said. She said the campus is also working on a correctional officer program that might serve Franklin County residents closer than the Port St. Joe campus.

Costin also noted the certified nursing assistant program being offered at St. James Bay Rehab Center outside Carrabelle.

“As much as possible,” stressed Kerley. “We want to partnership, partnership, partnership.”

Oehlert outlined for trustees the math and English courses Gulf Coast is involved in teaching at the Eastpoint campus.

“It’s easier to get here than drive to Port St. Joe,” he said. “Our students need more to be getting ready for careers. Our students need to see some hope. Family traditions may not be counted on any longer.”