Kidder County School unveils $450,000 ag expansion
STEELE, N.D. — When Kidder County, N.D., merged its two high schools for this school year, there was one major hitch: the county school district's ag program had always been based at Tappen High School. All of the students now go to Steele High School. Steele had a shop, but not the kind of facility that would house all of the agriculture and vocational education offerings.
To solve the problem, the district put up a $450,000 agriculture education expansion that they hope will continue to attract more students to the program and prepare students for careers in agriculture for years to come. It consists of a roomy shop, a self-contained classroom,a balcony storage space and a greenhouse work space. A new greenhouse will be coming soon.
The school, which educates students from across the county that spans more square miles than the state of Rhode Island, on April 9 held an open house to show the community the new facility prior to Kidder County FFA's annual banquet.
Superintendent Rick Diegel said funding for the facility came out of the district's building and general funds. Education always has a cost, whether for textbooks or facilities, and the school board and community felt like having an adequate place for agriculture education was worth the price tag, he said.
"We felt like this was a high enough need that it was very much worth doing," he said.
The cost breakdown was about $350,000 for the building itself and about $100,000 for the components inside, Diegel explained. He added that a ventilation system for the welding stalls, which will filter the air and return it to the building rather than just suck it out, will result in long-term savings from heating costs.
Agriculture education teacher Pete Martin said his program has been in the new building since January. Some of the classes have helped construct things like tool storage cabinets and welding bays. Martin said he has some students who are in the ag facility five hours of the day — taking three classes from him and coming in on their free time to help out.
"I think they really enjoy it," he said.
He's seen more people sign up for classes, in part, he believes, because students no longer have to travel to Tappen, located 14 miles away, to attend.
While construction was going on, ag classes were held in the Steele school's old shop. Allison Roth, a sophomore student who formerly went to school in Tappen, said the temporary classroom situation, moving into and finishing the new facility and merging two schools have meant a "big adjustment" for students. But the new facility has been "definitely an upgrade."
"It is really amazing to see how it's come along," she said.
Roth, the FFA chapter's reporter, sees the facility as a way to unite the two schools, get a more diversified FFA membership and grow the ag education program.
Junior Austin Schmidt, who also used to go to Tappen, said moving the students and the ag program to Steele seems to have created some buzz in Steele that never happened in the past.
"I thought our shop over in Tappen was pretty nice, but to get this all built just allows us to do so much more than we could there and gives us so much more space," he said.
Schmidt, the FFA vice president, is in the welding class that helped construct the welding stalls. Martin said the class welded all the wall dividers between stalls, as well as putting together chairs and tables to make one stand, an idea they got from Lynnes Welding in Bismarck and Fargo. Students also have built a storage room next to the welding bays, Martin added.
Building the welding bays was a "hectic" process, Schmidt said, but one that has built excitement about the class. He's heard of more people signing up for it for next year, and by joining the welding class, students also will have the opportunity to join FFA.
Diegel said Kidder County's agriculture education classes, along with its technology and engineering education program, give the school unique offerings to get students ready for life after high school. Few schools in the state offer both programs, with only two rural schools offering both, confirmed Aaron Anderson, agriculture education supervisor in the North Dakota Department of Career and Technical Education.
"We have a great school. We offer a lot of different programs that our kids are able to take and it will really prepare them for their post high school careers," Diegel said.