Turning up the heat on a longtime plan to build a culinary institute in Beaufort County, the Technical College of the Lowcountry got a 20-year, $2.5 million agreement from the Beaufort County Board of Education at a board meeting last week.
TCL’s proposed $11.5 million, 26,000 square foot facility at Buckwalter Place is their way of addressing the county’s shortage of trained restaurant workers, an issue TCL officials say has resulted in shortened hours for some restaurants, gaps in customer service and threats to the county’s reliance on tourism revenue.
The board’s financial promise comes with a caveat: the college must provide $125,000 of culinary classes in the form of dual credits to Beaufort County School District students each year. If services drop below that threshold, the agreement is void.
The dual credit program wasn’t part of the initial plan.
College officials came to the board’s work session Aug. 12 asking for a $125,000 annual commitment from the district for the next 20 years.
“Why should we divert money from K-12 to this?” board member David Striebinger asked.
The board is somewhat divided on the K-16 model, which advocates for local school districts to invest in programming that goes beyond the traditional grades.
TCL president Richard Gough presented a compromise three days later. In exchange for the district’s capital contribution, TCL will offer $125,000 in dual credits each year.
“In a sense, it will be a wash,” he said.
Superintendent Jeff Moss agreed, adding that enrollment in the district’s culinary program is on the rise.
“If 400 students participate, it should not be a problem,” Moss said. “It’s a viable option for us.”
TCL officials reported 360 high school students enrolled in the district’s culinary program last year.
Research shows chefs with a culinary certificate have a starting salary of $16.25 per hour, with income for some Sea Pines chefs topping six figures, said Mary Lee Carns, the college’s vice president of advancement and external relations.
The culinary institute could accommodate up to 300 full-time students. Estimates put the construction timeframe at around two years.
The board’s agreement with TCL is also contingent upon the college’s ability to secure remaining funding from other partners.
Beaufort County officials already kicked in $5 million earlier this month. Bluffton Town Council will be discussing their level of contribution, if any, at a Tuesday meeting.
Hurricane Matthew financially depleted the town of Hilton Head’s reserves, so capital contributions from them were unlikely, TCL officials told the board.
Board member JoAnn Orischak cautioned the board on the potential implications of the arrangement.
“Other higher education institutions may come to us for capital needs, depending on how we vote tonight,” she said.
Nevertheless, the board voted 7-3 on the deal, with Orischak and board members Mary Cordray and Christina Gwozdz voting against.