BROOKSVILLE — The third time asking for state appropriations was the charm for Sophia Watson, the county’s supervisor of adult and technical education, and School Board member Jimmy Lodato.

A dream in the making since 2013, Hernando County’s first vocational school will finally become reality once building gets underway at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

The Hernando Board of County Commissioners approved of a cost-sharing agreement with the Hernando County School Board and Pasco-Hernando State College at its June 22 meeting. The new school will be constructed on 17.94 acres of land at the airport along with a government center and corporate college.

County Administrator Jeff Rogers stated that the three parties agreed to share the cost of hiring an architect to create a master plan for the site, which is estimated at $25,000. Rogers added that the county will reimburse the college at one-third of that cost from boating impact fees.

When the county received a small appropriation to begin a vocational education program through Suncoast Technical Education Center at local high schools, Watson said she knew it was only a temporary fix and a matter of time before a standalone building would be needed.

“It wasn’t enough to build a building, but we got creative,” Watson said. “We started asking for funds three years ago. Prior to that, we looked at local options. Now, we’ve received $9.35 million from state plus a little bit of a local match to build and outfit the building.”

While neighboring counties have been offering technical courses for years, Hernando can finally get with the program to provide local families an opportunity to learn, work, and live in one place without the hassle of a commute.

SunTech’s programs include applied cybersecurity; automotive service technology 1; certified nursing assistant; cosmetology; heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration 1; and welding technology, among others.

Watson said plans are being made to offer advanced HVAC, diesel service technician, and cosmetology courses, while expanding its medical programs, pre-apprenticeship offerings, and criminal justice program.

Lodato applauded the appropriation, claiming that with the high school graduation of 1,500 students each year in Hernando, the county could use a vocational school for the 500 or so students not going on to higher education.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican from Trilby, assisted in the process by pushing the appropriations bill forward.

“Sophia and I have been working this program for a long time,” Lodato said. “What’s so unique about this is we have put together a coalition with the county commissioners who have donated the land and the president of PHSC, Dr. Timothy Beard, so we’ll have three complexes. If (students) want to go to advanced training at vo-tech they’ll be able to go to PHSC on the same campus. The kids are so excited about it, to be able to go forward in a career without having to go through all the college process.”

To learn more about SunTech’s education programs, visit