DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — Northwest Florida State College hopes to help more than 900 people earn new "industry-recognized" certificates by 2024.

With the help of grants from Triumph Gulf Coast and the Walton County Commission, NWF State plans to expand its educational opportunities in areas such as emergency services, cybersecurity and trade skills such as welding.

According to a press release from the college, the project is expected to cost more than $5.7 million. Establishing the Walton Works Training Center of Excellence will include renovations to the college's Chautauqua Center in DeFuniak Springs and the construction of an adjacent fire tower and indoor drone range.

Grants include $1.5 million from the county and more than $2.7 million from Triumph. The project will also use resources and help from the Walton County Sheriff's Office and CareerSource Okaloosa Walton.

According to Laura Coale, executive director of strategic communications for the college, developments will begin after Triumph approves the grant contract. She expected design and permitting to take 4-6 months, with most new courses beginning next fall. 

"The programs selected for the Walton Works project are all in in-demand fields that allow (students who complete the programs) to gain employment in well-paying jobs," Coale said in an email. "Some certificates, such as in building trades, can be completed in 2-6 weeks."

She added the college would fund $1.5 million of the project.

"The goal of it all is to bring more jobs to the area, but also the kind of jobs that raise family incomes and provide more diversification of our economy," Triumph Chairman Don Gaetz said. "If something terrible happens in the Gulf of Mexico, Northwest Florida can be brought to its knees economically."

Triumph was created to distribute reimbursements allocated to the Panhandle after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

Looking forward, he said Triumph plans to continue helping other schools across Northwest Florida.

Some of NWF State's upcoming programs — including the Emergency Medical Technician program — will begin during construction, Coale said.

She added that the college also has increased the number of dual-enrollment classes offered at the Chautauqua Center.

"One of the goals of Triumph Gulf Coast is to versify the economic base of Northwest Florida, and the program we funded through Northwest Florida State College does that," Gaetz said.