Local leaders: Student opportunity as strong as ever in Orange County

Published 12:08 am Saturday, April 22, 2023

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Dr. Tom Johnson had a story to tell.

“I want to take you back a little bit,” he said. “I want to thank Dr. (Mike) Shahan for laying the predicate of why we needed this building. I will forever be grateful for that. That was a few years ago. It takes awhile, but today we see the fruit of that.”

Johnson, president of Lamar State College Orange, delivered the history lesson Wednesday morning when celebrating the ground breaking of the campus’ new $38 million academic building.

Shahan, who was school president before Johnson, said this week’s progress marks an important step for Orange County that has been years in the making.

“We had a definite need for a better academic building and this was an ideal site,” he said. “You combine that with the fact that the bank was empty and deteriorating. This is a plus for the city, a plus for the school. It is a real step forward for everybody.”

Shahan, who retired after more than 24 years of service to the university, said funding for such a projects falls on the whims of the state legislature.

He and others credited the work of Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Dade Phelan and State Sen. Robert Nichols for their work in securing funding.

The new building is expected to be ready by the fall of 2024.

With this enhancement and others, Shahan feels Lamar State College Orange is a “perfect place” to receive skills training for immediate workplace placement or early coursework on the path to a bachelor’s degree or graduate’s degree.

“It’s a great place to start,” he said. “There are great facilities, great faculty, lots of personal attention and lots of pluses I think we have over some of the bigger institutions.”


When finished, this 55,000-square-feet building will house academic classrooms, labs and LSCO’s Information Technology Department, among much more.

Those new opportunities touched Orange County Judge John Gothia, who reflected on his career, adding he was a product of the campus.

“My first two college years were spent over here in a little bitty building they had years ago,” he said. “To see it grow to what it is today is fantastic. It is great for our community. It is great that our students have something local to go to and start their educational career.”

Gothia said Orange County students and young professionals are as well positioned today for future success as they have been in years.

“They have a lot of opportunity in front of them,” he said. “What Dr. Johnson has done here, they keep expanding educational opportunities with this new skill center and focusing back on skills we need with all the industry that is growing here. We need kids coming out of high school to get a college education and skills they can use with welding and all different things that come with that.”


Following LSCO’s groundbreaking, Vidor Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Jay Killgo said there is “sincere interest” from college leaders in building the community.

“It is really reassuring to know that you have your own organization and those outside your organization with an understanding of the big picture, walking with you in your endeavors with the same goals as you,” he said. “I can’t brag on LSCO more about their compassion towards students. Dr. Johnson has a heart for reaching every individual student and giving them a pathway toward the future. It gives me a good feeling of optimism about the future and the folks we’re working with.”

Killgo has worked locally for 15 years and said he can’t remember a time when there has been more opportunity.

He cited industrial expansion and the promise of more jobs in retail and education to meet those needs.

“The future is bright for students,” he said. “The opportunities are there. We’re guiding them in the right direction and we have somebody that we can hand them off to at LSCO and Lamar Beaumont. It gives families and students a pathway forward, which is all you want.”


John Mixon of Durotech, who is helping lead construction of the academic building, said he is happy to start a partnership with the Texas State University System.

“From a personal side, I have had two of my sons graduate from the state college system with a trade and now are productive members of the workforce,” he said. “As a family we are very grateful for that.

“We hope to construct this building that is going to last generations, support the community and provide productive members of our society.”