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Does Pinellas have right stuff for Job Corps?

The county has spent two years fine tuning its application to bring the center to St. Petersburg. Sites are being inspected.

By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002

The county has spent two years fine tuning its application to bring the center to St. Petersburg. Sites are being inspected.

An Atlanta architect will be in Pinellas County today, evaluating whether the county would be a good site for a federal program that helps low-income young people get jobs.

Pinellas has spent more than two years putting together an application to bring a multimillion-dollar Job Corps center to St. Petersburg.

"This is the first step," said County Commissioner Bob Stewart. "This visit is crucial to the whole process."

Stewart has spearheaded the county's pursuit of Job Corps. The county recently turned in a thick notebook and a snazzy videotape to the U.S. Department of Labor, which runs Job Corps.

The written material includes letters of support from a slew of local elected officials, as well as Florida's congressional delegation and Gov. Jeb Bush . The videotape promotes Pinellas as the perfect mix of business powerhouse and vacation paradise.

Job Corps offers job training and education to at-risk 16- to 24-year-olds. They live in dormitories under strict rules, with about 300 youths going through a program that generally lasts about eight months. The program helps them find jobs and follows up with them after graduation.

The county is competing for one of two new Job Corps sites with other proposals from around the country. Florida already has four Job Corps centers: in Gainesville, Homestead, Jacksonville and Miami.

Despite having so many centers, Florida still has more students that want Job Corps training than it has space. Some Florida youths go out of state, to less-crowded Job Corps sites. Stewart said the Pinellas site could fill its program with young people from Tampa Bay.

"If and when we succeed, there will be a tremendous positive economic impact," Stewart said.

The architect will look at the county's two proposed sites for Job Corps from a building standpoint. Does the site have enough space? Does it have buildings that can be used for dorms, or enough room to build them? Is it free of environmental hazards?

The county's principal site is at the Pinellas Technical Education Center campus, on 34th Street S near Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg. Locating there would mean sharing some classrooms and other space with PTEC. That would be unusual for Job Corps but also cheaper.

Clide Cassity, PTEC director, said Job Corps would help add stability to PTEC's programs and help low-income students.

"Many times they don't have the resources," Cassity said of local students who have a hard time paying for PTEC's program.

The county's alternate site is at the St. Petersburg College administrative offices in Pinellas Park. Those offices will move to the Epicenter facility in a few years.

If the county passes the architect's review, a larger contingent of Labor Department officials will make a second, more formal visit later this year, Stewart said. The department will decide on the two new sites next spring.

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