A new Monroe County schools facility will fill the missing piece of a growing education program.
The district hopes to have a new agriculture sciences center finished by fall 2018.
The Monroe County school board has approved the project, and architecture firm SP Design Group drew up the plans, said Roger Onstott, the district's facilities and maintenance coordinator. The budget should be prepared by February, and then the project will go out for bids. The goal is to start construction by early spring.
The plans call for three separate buildings — a small animal barn, a cattle barn and an open pavilion to work with animals — as well as bathroom facilities. An acre of pasture will be fenced in so the cattle can graze at night, said Bill Waldrep, an agriculture teacher who's been at Mary Persons for 15 years. The property is between Mary Persons High School and the Banks Stephens campus of Monroe County Middle and near T.G. Scott Elementary.
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The middle and high school will both use the facilities for their agriculture classes, and science and math teachers could also tie the center into their classes, Waldrep said. The site is within walking distance of the middle school and a five-minute bus ride from the high school.
Mary Persons has about 160 students in its agriculture program and 140 Future Farmers of America members. This is the first year Waldrep has had two full livestock classes. The middle school has had an agriculture program for about three years.
"The real reason for everything is Mr. Waldrep," Onstott said. "You've got high school kids standing in line to be in his classes. There is that much interest that these kids have. The facility is driven by the need, the want to and the desire of the kids. ... One-hundred-sixty kids want to be there doing ag."
Mary Persons students already work in a greenhouse behind the school for a horticulture class, survey nearby land for a forestry course and do projects in the shop for ag mechanics, Waldrep said. The only thing missing was a place to keep animals for the livestock class and competitions.
Right now, Waldrep brings a trailer of animals to the school once a month for his livestock class. Animals are kept in several different locations throughout the county, and Waldrep said he has to deliver them all back home after competitions. The facility will provide a central access point to bring all the animals.
Waldrep said he's been hoping for a center like this for a long time. It will provide a place for students to raise and exhibit livestock, gain first-hand experience and learn how to take care of animals. The agriculture industry is growing across Georgia and the United States, and the center is right in line with that increased interest.
"I think it's going to be just wonderful benefits for students," Waldrep said. "The things that I'm trying to teach them in class, they'll actually be able to see and put their hands on more often now. It also gives a place for students who do not live on a farm to raise their own livestock and have the ability to compete against students from other schools at FFA and 4-H shows across the state."