By Kevin Rauda, Contributing Writer
Pickens school leaders say the new state-of-the-art agricultural facility will be transformative for the district. The 43,000-square-foot Barnes Family Agricultural Cultural facility, located at Pickens High School, will serve multiple purposes such as livestock shows, meetings, performances, auctions, and classrooms.
Greg Long, local president of the FFA Alumni, says the building will be chiefly used by FFA and Agricultural students. “Pickens has the largest livestock team in north Georgia and Pickens FFA is the largest youth organization in the county.”
Livestock shows allow students to demonstrate animals they have taken care of throughout the year. Students “come in and showcase animals they’ve worked with every single day.” Long says that the importance of educating students about where their food comes from lays the groundwork for their future success in agriculture.
Tommy Gartrell, school board chair, said agricultural and FFA have been two of the most successful programs here. While, over the years, other school systems built structures similar to this one, Pickens lagged behind on facilities but still kept pace academically.
“Facilities like this one are crucial,” he said. “I feel blessed to have been a small part in bringing this facility to our community and delighted that it is dedicated and named after the Barnes family. Johnny, Jack, and the late Jerry Barnes worked selflessly and tirelessly promoting agricultural education. I cannot imagine a more fitting name for this beautiful building.”
With agriculture being the largest industry in Georgia. Gartrell and Long believe agriculture education and FFA are invaluable resources. “FFA alumni is an organization designed to promote students’ knowledge in agriculture” aiding students to see potential career paths in landscaping, soil and water conservation, wildlife management, and many more said Long.
In addition, the FFA provides students with experience with public speaking, farm business management, and livestock judging.
Gartrell points out that “dozens of PHS graduates attended colleges all over the country on scholarship for agricultural studies.”
Long says the plan between the agriculture teachers and their facilities in Union, Fannin, Gilmer, and now Pickens County is for students to travel less. This will reduce the stress on the parents, students, and their animals helping facilitate a community amongst the schools in the north of the state.
The Barnes Ag. facility will also lessen costs for the school district, reducing the need to rent conference rooms from other facilities and helping to localize school affairs.
The facility will house a large conference room, multiple office areas, a kitchen area, and a concession stand. The livestock show arena will be able to hold 350 people. Additionally, the livestock holding area will hold 150 pens.
There is a ventilation system which ensures odor and moisture management. Animals will not be permanently held in the facility allowing for clubs and extracurricular events throughout the year.
The facility’s budget was $6.6 million. Gartrell said, “We have paid just over $5.9 million and expect the final cost to be significantly under budget.” The facility was 100% funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, leaving the school district with no outstanding bonds and zero debt. “There’s an ongoing dialogue about the potential incremental uses. It is a magnificent building, so I hope our community has numerous occasions to enjoy it,” said Gartrell.
On the last weekend of March, there will be an FFA Alumni equipment auction. Long says that “every dime [raised] is spent back on our kids.”
Over the summer and winter, there will be various livestock shows where belt buckles and prize money will be awarded, all sponsored by the Pickens County FFA Alumni.
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