But that wasn’t all. Some came back convinced that Bryan County needs a career academy of its own.
"A similar career facility would definitely be a great asset to all of Bryan County," said Sean Register, a local businessman who is also on the Bryan County Development Authority and the Coastal Regional Commission.
Register set up the trip to Brunswick after touring the career academy with the CRC and returning with the belief that the school offered something special – and not just to people who want to learn a trade.
"A career academy would create a partnership between Bryan County Schools and the business sector," Register said. "The career academy would provide a viable skilled workforce to local businesses in a wide array of occupational fields. The greater job growth and retention within Bryan County equates to more monies generated and turned over many times within our county’s borders. In the long run, this job creation and retention ultimately relieves the tax burden on the homeowner."
Restaurant owner Butch Broome was among those who made the trip to Brunswick. He said a career academy "would be a great long term project for Bryan County. It certainly would be a valuable economic tool for our community and local employers."
Broome, who is running for the Bryan County Commission, noted that "Bryan County Schools have a lot to be proud of but we currently don’t have anything like this to offer our students or adults."
Few counties in Georgia do.
State of the artThe Golden Isles Career Academy looks more like a community college than a place where high school kids take shop classes or learn how to cook.
It boasts state of the art technology and classrooms where high school and adult students can get hands on training in fields as diverse as culinary arts, robotics or heating and air conditioning repair. There’s even a cutting-edge machine shop.
But the academy, which just finished its first year of operation, didn’t happen overnight.
The result of a combined effort between the public and private sector that began in 2005, GICA is a partnership between the Glynn County Board of Education and Altahama Tech. Several government and private entitites also played a role in shaping the academy, which is one of only a handful in the state.
In its first year, GICA provided training in more than 17 vocational areas to approximately 800 high school students from both Glynn Academy and Brunswick High while also offering adult education. And all took place at a sparkling new $15 million campus.
The building was paid for largely with SPLOST funds approved by voters in 2005 and again 2007. Attempts to find out how much it has cost the school system to operate in its first year were unsuccessful.
Observers say it’s an impressive approach to vocational education and finding a way to interest students who might otherwise drop out of school or "fall through the cracks."
One of those who believes a career academy will benefit Bryan County is Amy Tavio. Tavio wears a number of hats as a mom, realtor and volunteer coordinator for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), where she helps coordinate volunteers who represent abused and neglected children in the court system.
"Bryan County Schools does an excellent job of educating college bound students," said Tavio, who moved here for the schools. "However, it’s the ones not going to college I’m worried about. And there are a lot of them."
Tavio said her experience with CASA shows a significant number of kids are falling through the cracks in Bryan County because of the lack of educational options. But she also did some research.
"According to the Department of Education state report card in 2008-2009 for Bryan County schools, 64 students enrolled in grades 7-12 dropped out," Tavio said, "and 69 eligible seniors failed to graduate. In one year alone we failed 133 kids."
She said that has a ripple effect.
"There is a high social cost to a community that has this many uneducated young people," she said. "Whether it be through crime, the teen birth rate, drug addiction, all are costs to society and a burden on a social welfare net that nobody likes to pay for."
Tavio also sees a career academy as an investment in jobs and economic growth.
"For us to be able to attract 21st century industries to Bryan County, we have to prove to these potential employers that we’ll have qualified employees," she said. "And everybody likes to see property values go back up. Builders will be glad to go back to work. That happens when we bring strong industries to Bryan County."
Another proponent of a career academy here is Bryan County Development Authority member Linda Barker, a local realtor who is heavily involved in community issues.
"I have spoken to many elected officials and when the presentation about the academy is made individually, how can they not say yes," she said, noting the "main focus is to provide students with a skill set to enter the workforce.
"As we all agree, that is good for the student and is good for the businesses that our region needs to maintain or attract," she said.
What’s more, Barker provided stats showing there are more than 400,000 people residing in the area from which to draw an adult student population from.
Bryan Schools currently offer a handful of vocational opportunities for high school students, and students on both end of the county have the opportunity to take courses at Savannah Tech or Ogeechee Tech.
But despite reservations about cost and accessability, school officials don’t dismiss the idea of a career academy in Bryan County.
"We want to continue to keep an open mind about it and look at where it might benefit and how it might work in Bryan County" said Superintendent John Oliver. "We want to see how our neighbors manage and what impact it has on their regular academic programs. I’m very much interested in talking to the superintendents in the counties where there are career academies as they continue to work with them."
The largest immediate obstacle to a career academy such as the one in Glynn County is funding, and that’s an obstacle that may not be easy to overcome..
"GICA has proven the benefits and needs of for this type of facility," Broome said. "It’s definitely something worth looking into, however I understand with the economy as it is right now it would be a tough sell."
But it’s a sell that could be worthwhile, he said.
"As our county grows and assuming we can start encouraging more economic development something like this would be a real asset. After spending all those years running Richmond Hill Recreation it’s kinda sad to see all those kids grow up and have to move away from Bryan County simply because we don’t have the economic development we need."
Barker in effect said a combined effort could make it happen.
"My attitude is with the cooperation of the Bryan County School Board, Bryan County Commission, City of Richmond Hill, City of Pembroke, Savannah Tech and the regional and industrial community, we should be able to find a way:"
Tavio believes the county’s fast growth means a third high school will be necessary soon. She said the money used to fund that school would be better spent on a career academy.
"We’re going to have to spend the money anyway," she said.
Editor’s note: This is the second in a multipart series.