PHS ag facility plans move forward

Posted 10/23/18

Construction of a new agricultural facility at Powell High School may begin as soon as next spring.

The Powell school board recently voted to move forward with the project, hiring Point Architects …

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PHS ag facility plans move forward

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Construction of a new agricultural facility at Powell High School may begin as soon as next spring.

The Powell school board recently voted to move forward with the project, hiring Point Architects to design a 100-foot-by-100-foot facility just north of the high school.

In addition to learning a variety of hands-on lessons in the new barn, ag students also will be able to raise livestock there — an opportunity that hasn’t been available for teens who live in town.

As the ag program has expanded in recent years, PHS Principal Jim Kuhn said the new facility is “the logical next step.”

“Agriculture for Powell is never going to go away,” Kuhn said. “That’s what a lot of our kids will be involved with one way or another, whether it’s the actual hands in the dirt or marketing or wherever they end up.”

About 60 students are members of the Powell-Shoshone FFA Chapter and around 100 students are involved in the ag and welding programs, said Bryce Meyer, PHS ag teacher and FFA adviser.

The idea for an ag facility has been discussed for several years.

The building will include livestock pens, an arena and meeting room, as well as an animal lab room for veterinary sciences, feed storage and tack storage.

“It feels like we’re in agreement that this is important for the community … an important extension of our high school as a learning facility for our students,” said Superintendent Jay Curtis last month. “The only question mark is how much we will pay for it.”

The Park County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees would like to build a facility similar to the one at Meeteetse Schools, which Curtis said cost roughly $505,000.

Point Architects did several initial estimates on what Powell’s ag facility could cost, ranging from nearly $767,000 to over $1 million. Curtis said a true cost won’t be known until the architectural firm is able to do more design work.

The district also expects to get some assistance with the project: Powell-Shoshone FFA students said they will help fundraise, and the chapter’s parent support group also pledged to help financially and through work on the facility.

“I have confidence in our administrators and the ag team that they’ll step up to the plate and the district’s costs on this project may be a lot less than that [the cost estimates],” said Board Chairman Greg Borcher.

“We can figure out where we can save money along the way,” Superintendent Curtis said. “That would be my intent and expectation.”

There’s a broad spectrum of people in the FFA parent support group and their contacts who could help with the project, said Travis Mehling, who serves on the support group.

“The [parent] group is totally behind this,” said Mehling. “... I know we’ve got a community that is behind agriculture and in support of us.”

Mehling said a lot of other schools have ag facilities, and he believes “it’d be a great asset to the ag program as well as the high school in general.”

PHS students also will work on the facility.

“Many of the welding students will be involved with the fabrication of the pens and any welding that will need to be done in the inside of the building,” said Meyer, the PHS ag teacher. “We anticipate any framing in the building that we can do will be worked on by ag students as well as the industrial arts kids.”

Any work that requires a certified professional, such as electrical work, would be hired out, Curtis said. But certain work, such as framing rooms or building panels, could be done by ag students and parents, he said.

“I think there will be some real enthusiasm for this, and it sounds like a lot of people will be able to do work in-kind,” said Trustee Kim Dillivan. “I anticipate a lot of fundraising going on.”

Meyer said the chapter does well with its fundraising already, and tries to be as self-sufficient as possible. Ag students are looking forward to helping with the project, he said.

“I really think they’re excited about the opportunity to go out and take part in fundraising and try to generate some money to relieve the district of some of the burden of the expense for the building,” Meyer said.

PHS senior and FFA chapter president McKennah Buck said when given a task, “we’ll do anything to make sure that we succeed.”

“This community is absolutely amazing when it comes to supporting our FFA chapter,” Buck added.

Facility to be built on donated land

The project already received a significant boost of community support from First Bank, which is donating land for the facility.

First Bank plans to trade a 4.7-acre lot on Lane 8H — which had been listed for $81,000 — for a 3-acre strip currently owned by  Delfino and Celedina Juarez.

After First Bank trades Juarez for the land, the bank will then donate the roughly 3-acre lot to the school district for the ag facility, said Gary Mills, senior lending officer for First Bank.

“We certainly want to invest in the community and see this as an opportunity to perpetuate our [agricultural] heritage,” Mills said. “Agriculture is still a very viable and important industry.”

He called the land north of PHS an ideal location for an ag facility.

Delfino Juarez  currently farms both lots and Mills said  Juarez is “certainly committed to helping the school, helping the kids and the community.”

Mills and Rob McCray, the district’s support services coordinator, recently met with Robert and Linda Bessler, the neighbors who live just east of the proposed ag facility to address any concerns. Mills said the Besslers were very accommodating.

Mills called the new facility “a logical augmentation of the existing ag program,” serving as a conduit between theory and reality, he said.

“There’s just so much more than books and whiteboards in this process of ag education,” Mills said.

Students also can learn the value of working hard and responsibility by raising their own animals and helping maintain the facility.

“Certainly the dividends of having a 4-H or FFA project reaches beyond the check that you get at the end of the summer for your FFA project,” Mills said.

He added that there’s always a future in agriculture.

PHS students are excited about the opportunity for kids who live in town to have a place to raise their animals.

“We have kids that will commute 30 miles to take care of their animals,” Buck said.

Last month, the school board approved a $41,300 contract with Point Architects, which includes the design, engineering, construction documents, bidding and construction monitoring for the new facility.

The hope is to go out for bid on the project in February or March, break ground in the spring, and have the facility finished by the end of the summer, Curtis said.

He said the district is currently considering the pros and cons of annexing the land into the City of Powell.

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