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SCF talking up high-tech plan for North Port

BRADENTON — SCF officials are discussing the launch of a center in North Port that would provide training for high-tech jobs, they said Wednesday.

The center, which would be located at the North Port Park of Commerce, near Interstate 75 and Toledo Blade Boulevard, would host a workforce development program offering a wide range of courses covering renewable energy and building energy technology, according to a presentation by Peter Bartolotta, a board member of a nonprofit citizens’ group called Vision North Port.

The program could also feed students into other energy certification and degrees offered at the college, such as a proposed bachelor of applied science and energy technology degree, said State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota President Lars Hafner.

Hands-on classes would be at the North Port location and/or at SCF’s Venice campus about 14 miles away, but as the curriculum is developed, some courses that lend themselves to online delivery would be available to students at Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch campuses, too, said Kathy Walker, SCF director of public affairs and marketing. She added that any SCF student may take a class at any campus, as well.

The project is still in the discussion stage, though.

“It’s a huge, huge deal,” said SCF Trustee Christine Robinson, of Venice, after a board meeting at the Bradenton campus. “We have a huge workforce in Sarasota County. ... It will help train the workforce to be on the cutting edge.”

SCF would boast a new location along I-75 to draw students to its Venice campus, and create demand for its energy-based degrees, said Bartolotta.

Those who train at the center might learn practical applications for advanced technologies that they could use nearby, such as at a Florida Power & Light project that calls for a 75-megawatt solar plant on 400 acres of land east of Fort Myers and Punta Gorda, officials said.

“Vision is seeing things that are not there, and making them happen,” Bartolotta said during a teleconference meeting with the SCF board.

In addition, North Port could also host a business development center there, he said.

In a separate, but related, development, the City of North Port is also offering SCF 15 acres to expand its Venice campus, officials said.

The land might be used for an eco-tech center focused on sustainable living, with a classroom demonstration area and a model “green” showcase building, officials said.

The additional land would be welcome, since SCF expects double-digit growth at its Venice campus, which now has 3,400 students, said Hafner.

“Easily in the next year or two, it could be 5,000,” he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031 or at