By JEFF JOHNSTON
Sawdust and hydroponics don’t mix, and that’s one reason the Fayette School District is asking voters to approve a school bond and levy next month.
The district’s agricultural education program has outgrown a space built for 30 students eight years ago, when the program was new, said Superintendent Erik Belcher.
“We now have 90, and that has continued to grow,” he said.
Those students, in grades 7-12, learn more than how to plant crops or raise livestock.
“In Ohio, the agricultural industry doesn’t just include farming,” Belcher said. “Basically, it’s career readiness.”
That means residential plumbing and heating, animal and plant science, welding, construction and more. And dusty carpentry lessons don’t share space very well with hydroponics systems growing plants without soil.
If the $1.4-million ballot question passes, the district will build a 2,900-square-foot addition onto the south end of the school with a large open space where students could learn to work on a tractor or build a shed for Habitat for Humanity. Existing space would be redesigned to create a learning lab for food science, add a CNC machine and plasma cutting tool and more.
These are important additions at a time when the state is focusing on career preparedness, Belcher said. State certification in fields such as welding and occupational health and safety will be one path to high school graduation under rules starting next year, and the new ag facility will support such programs.
New baseball, softball and soccer fields and track-and-field facilities are part of the ballot question, too.
“We looked at what we need to do to grow the district,” Belcher said. “And part of that is athletics.”
Belcher said state funding for the new school building in 2008 did not provide for athletics improvements: “We had plans, but we didn’t have a funding mechanism.”
Funds raised by local athletics boosters in the years since will pay for dugouts, concession stands, youth ball diamonds, a fieldhouse, lighting and other amenities at the new facilities.
All told, the school district’s share of the ag and athletics projects will cost $2.1 million—$1.4 million from the bond, plus $400,000 from the general fund, $200,000 from the Charles Climo estate and $100,000 from the maintenance fund.
If voters say yes, Belcher said the district could take bids as early as this fall, and the project could start in the winter and ready by the following school year.
The ballot question includes a 1.1-mill permanent improvement levy for upkeep of the new facilities. The levy and bond issue are a package deal—“(If) you vote yes, you vote yes for both,” Belcher said.
The election is Tuesday, Aug. 2, and polls will be open from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.
Belcher said the district has printed and distributed brochures about the vote, and a mailing will be sent to district residents. If anyone has questions, he said, “call me at the school and ask.” He said he’d be happy to sit down and go over facts.
So far, questions seem to be few. At a community meeting the district hosted last Wednesday, “two people showed,” Belcher said.
The superintendent has high hopes for passage.
“That space is very important for us,” he said. To him, it’s all about preparing students for jobs and life.
“I can see our ag program expanding, especially as much as it already has,” he said. He can even imagine a future where the district has its own animal barns for livestock. “There’s a lot of directions this could go.”