Grainger to buy acreage for agriculture program

Grainger County Board of Education member Marcus Long follows the agenda items on a Microsoft Surface Pro during Tuesday’s Grainger County BOE meeting in Rutledge.

In the end, hands-on learning won out.

The Grainger County Board of Education, along with the Grainger High School agriculture department, will purchase 50 acres of land adjacent to the east side of the high school for agriculture program expansion.

Price for the land is $5,000 per acre, or $250,000.

“Not every student is reared on a farm,” Director of Schools Dr. James Atkins said. “They don’t have an opportunity to experience that every day like we did.”

Land use possibilities are endless, including livestock, small animals, pigs, sheep, additional greenhouses and more.

“That will be hands on. It’s work-based learning that would enrich their studies in the classroom,” Atkins said. “It is a project that I think is wonderful. The icing on the cake is when they said they didn’t want a handout. They said ‘we’re not looking for your money. We’ll pay back x-amount of dollars every year for the next few years.’”

Atkins said that any land purchase is by the school system, not a single school, and the system would have control of the land.

“The courses we offer in small animal science, livestock management, we would have the opportunity to possibly offer equine science,” Grainger High Agriculture Instructor Daryl Morgan said. “We also have the opportunity to offer small animal and veterinary science. We do not have any way to have animals. That will be our primary focus with this property. However, that property does have some woods that enable us to have forestry, have a wildlife curriculum to expand for students of our school.

“The big thing is having that hands-on component that the students cannot get sitting in a classroom. We have already begun speaking loosely with Farm Credit Services, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We are also in pretty decent financial shape ourselves. We will be able to sustain that windfall of getting that farm up into production. We’ve got several things in the works already and I’m very confident that we can make that happen with you all’s help and other governmental agencies,” Morgan said.

In transportation matters, bus route 43 contractor Jane McElhaney attempted to transfer the contract to Jaris Williams, but the motion failed on a 2-8 vote.

Meanwhile, the board agreed to draft a proposal to transfer McElhaney’s route back to the county on a 10-0 vote.

Atkins said that the system has nine spare buses in the system’s fleet. Two of those buses are used for athletic events by Grainger and Washburn high schools.

“Most of them are in fair condition,” Atkins said.

Previously, some contractors who would borrow buses when their buses would tear up would pick up one of the spare buses.

“It’s my understanding that in the past that some contractors would pick up a bus without us knowing who picked up the bus,” Atkins said. “My response was that it will stop because we must have a record of who has picked up the bus. They must get permission now instead of just going to find keys for a bus and driving off in it. That is unacceptable.”

A contractor can have a replacement bus up to five days at no charge before a cost is applied.

According to numbers provided by Atkins, 31 bus routes are operated by contractors and 23 routes are operated by the county, including all 10 special education buses.