Upshur BOE eyes ag program expansion

For more than a year, the Upshur County Board of Education has focused on ways to utilize additional school property near Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Two high school agricultural instructors, Joe Hymes and Connie Scarbrough, presented their vision for the use of part of the property to the Board of Education last week.

Facilities director Keith Moran presented ideas for another part of the property that involves extra-curricular activities. A third possibility, is the location of a new school facility.

Moran proposed the additional property near the end of the football field and parking area can be used for new baseball, softball and general-use fields. He said there is enough space to incorporate the three fields, while leaving room for the concept of a new school facility. He said he could get a design proposal for $5,680. Board members approved the use of funds for the proposal from J.T. Sauer and Associates LLC.

One possibility for the property would be the addition of a land laboratory for students in the high school agricultural program. Much of the land was previously used as a farm.

It even would be possible for the land laboratories could be used by middle school students and graduates enrolled in AmeriCorps, officials said.

“Our vision is a grand vision that’s diversified and has all aspects of agriculture in it, from forestry, wildlife and fisheries, all the way up to greenhouse production,” Hymes said. “We hope we can accomplish a lot of things.”

He said the property, owned by the school board, along the west side of W.Va. 20 is very diversified.

“It is very typical of what the West Virginia farm has. There are hillside slopes and forests,” Hymes said. “Part of our job is to teach (students), have them investigate how they can get the best use of that land. Our idea for the best use of this land is to put it into working agriculture.”

Hymes said he would like to have cattle and hogs on the property, and to make use of the barn that already sets on the land. He said he hopes to have crops grown there.

“Our students are to gain career and technical skills that they can apply to a job,” Hymes said. “With a land laboratory, we can give them the opportunity to do that.”

What he and Scarbrough wish to accomplish could require a large amount of finances for equipment and other materials.

“Money is an issue, but I know how to get money,” Scarbrough said, adding that she’s a grant writer. She said she has to be certain the area can be utilized for the proposed purpose before she can receive grant funding to help.

“The plan is to be progressive and always be building toward something,” Hymes said, adding that the project doesn’t have to start out with everything, but can grow as finances grow. “We would want to take care of the important things first to make sure our facilities are safe for students to be in and the community to be in.”

Board member Patrick Long asked how students would travel between the school to the land lab. He also wanted to know if students could utilize the facility during school time or after hours. Scarbrough said those and other details would be worked out as the planning stages for the project continued.

“I think it is very exciting,” Long said. “I’ve always thought that this was the perfect use for that property. I think it’s a win-win for the community and the students.”

Board president Teresa Bellamy also was in favor of the idea. Board members approved the plan to move forward with the project. Though the land laboratory concept is still in the planning stages, Scarbrough also will be able to seek financial help with the project.