John Holdnak, President of Gulf Coast State College, sat down with the Florida Chamber Foundation to discuss the impact Hurricane Michael had on the college and their steps following the hurricane to return to working order.
The Gulf Coast State College in Panama City started out as a small junior college. Since it opened in 1957, it has broadened its mission and today offers more than 150 programs and is relied upon by the panhandle to prepare students for the workforce.
On October 10, 2018 Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in the Panhandle, came onshore as a Category 4 storm causing catastrophic damage. Mr. Holdnak describes the days following the hurricane.
“Panama City experienced sustained winds of 166 miles an hour and 182 mile an hour gusts of wind, some higher, and if you’re wondering what stands up to that – not much.”
“We are a very resilient group of people and we say that so often I think it may end up becoming cliché but I don’t know a better way to describe a group of people that have been through what has occurred in Northwest Florida, not just in my community, but all the communities around us and up through Florida to the Georgia border.”
The college suffered approximately $44 million in damages and the largest campus with 28 buildings saw damage to every structure. However, despite the severity of the damage, Gulf Coast State College re-opened 27 days after the storm hit
“From the time the storm crossed the coast and we were closed to the time we reopened for classes was 27 days. If you saw the damage that we had at the college, you would be amazed that we could have don’t that.”
“We lost about 8 percent of our enrollment in the fall directly related to the hurricane. That is a phenomenal number because the average in our system historically over the last 25 years or so is about 30 percent a semester if it’s a direct hit.”
On Hurricane Preparedness
“We prepare ahead of time. The colleges in Florida belong to a common risk management consortium. We plan ahead of time to have a company come in and work with us in the event of a natural disaster. They hit the ground running.”
On Challenges That Continue
“Thirty percent of all housing was destroyed or damaged so badly that it’s unlivable for probably six months or more and that’s probably the biggest detriment not only to the college being fully operational but the community being fully operational.”
“We are making progress but that’s the number one impactor on the business community as well as the college.”