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District breaks ground on welding facility

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times
The Apalach Times

The Franklin County Schools last week broke ground on a new welding facility, the first of three-phases that fall under a Triumph grant to help education in the district.

On hand for the Thursday morning, July 30 groundbreaking were State Rep. Jason Shoaf, Culpepper Construction representatives Chuck Roberts, president, Lisa Tjaden, marketing coordinator, and Bobby Fickett, business development; Greg Kelly from CRA Architects; Superintendent Traci Yoder, School Board member Carl Whaley, and Rhonda Griffin, the district’s coordinator of curriculum and instruction, who wrote the Triumph grant.

Culpepper Construction was awarded the bid for the construction of the project, at a cost of $1.43 million, and CRA Architects awarded the bid to design the building, at a cost of a little more than $118,000.

The funds will be paid for out of the $2.33 million Phase I grant, which calls for a local match of $984,500, to be paid out of funds from the Franklin County Schools as well as the ABC School. The first phase of this “Franklin Environmental Career and Technical Training” grant also includes the building of a STEM classroom for the ABC School.

The project’s soft costs, for such things as engineering, furniture, fixtures, equipment, electronics, wiring, and welding equipment, left $1.4 million for construction costs. Between the 18-month span of when the grant was awarded and the beginning of construction, the cost of materials and labor soared, and so earlier this summer the school board approved a scaling back of the original scope of the project.

The size of the building was reduced size from 60,000 to 48,000 square feet, and the originally proposed 20 student work stations were reduced to 12, plus four specialty booths.

The cutbacks displeased Board Chair Stacy Kirvin, who asked for clarification on the changes before giving a final go-ahead to the project.

“It seems to me we’re protecting your profit instead of getting the building we want,” he asked, at the virtual meeting, with representatives of both Culpepper and CRA on the line.

“It’s almost like a bait-and-switch, it’s kind of a hard pill to swallow for me,” he said. “I’m hoping to have more than 12 kids in a welding class. Why has the project changed pretty drastically? It seems like a lot has been taken out.”

The companies’ reps defended their changes, noting that after the competitive bid process, they were forced to seek modifications. “It’s somewhat a reflection of where the market is,” they said.

The representatives said they would be doing much of the work themselves, at a lower price than hiring outside subcontractors.

“We did that to get the budget just as we said we would do when we made the presentation,” they said, noting that all the proposed changes were reviewed by the design team, including the engineers.

“It’s not going to make a difference how the students learn welding,” said Griffin.

In the end, Kirvin joined with his colleagues in giving unanimous approval to the project.

“It’s a flawed process, so different than the private sector,” he said. “It is what it is and we need to get moving with it.”

Yoder said she was confident the changes will lead to a top-notch facility.

“When planning the building, we were unsure how large it would need to be to accommodate our student population and the number of stations desired,” she said Monday. “We decided to cut the square footage and the number of workstations because our student population would never require 20 stations and the cost savings were so great they could not be ignored.

“By making this sacrifice, we are going to be able to purchase more specialized equipment for the shop area, allowing our students to have the very best tools to use for training purposes,” Yoder said.

At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, the district constructed a pole barn and has offered basic welding instruction for the last two years, under welding instructor Mike Youngblood, who came to the district with almost 40 years of experience in the field.

“While this allowed instruction to occur when the weather permitted, no welding could take place during the rainy days,” said Yoder. “This new building will allow instruction to continue during any conditions, and will also allow us to expand the welding program to the adult population by offering evening classes.

The building is on track to be completed by Christmas break.

The second phase of the Triumph grant will be used to fund the district’s Unmanned Space drone program, and Phase 3 will fund the building of a new bus garage to house the district’s heavy diesel, automotive and marine repair programs as well as retrofitting the gym at the Franklin County Learning Center to be the new home for the district’s training program for CDL (commercial driving licenses).

This will also allow an expansion of the medical academy to include office positions, and to get an environmental / horticulture / agriculture program off the ground.

The school board hopes to partner with Lively Technical College to offer additional post-secondary and adult education classes at night for an adult population.

“It’s a great day for education in Franklin County today,” Yoder told the board Thursday evening. ““We are working to create a highly qualified, certified, diversified workforce in Northwest Florida. Franklin County may be small, but we are working to give our students and families big opportunities for college and career opportunities.”

The required performance metrics

In order to meet the requirements of the Triumph grant, the district must meet one of four performance metrics.

These include issuing at least 750 certifications in digital tools and/or nursing, and at least 27 certifications in welding between the beginning of the 2018-19 school year and the end of the 2022-23 school year; or that between the beginning of the 2019-20 school year and the end of the 2023-24 school year, at least 70 percent of those enrolled in a certification program actually complete the program and obtain a certificate; or that based on State of Florida datasets on wages paid to individuals, at least half of those who have graduated from the program earn wages equal to or greater than the average entry-level wage for that occupation in the geographic area; or that at least 20 percent of the seniors who graduate high school by June 20, 2022, or at least 25 percent of those who graduate by June 30, 2023, graduate with both a high school diploma and an associates degree.

“We are ahead of the plan in earning those,” Yoder said.