On Veterans Day , Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham stopped by Heritage High School to see how work was going on the new Heritage Livestock Facility.
What the mayor saw impressed him as students and teachers worked in 20-degree temperatures to complete one of the barns.
“This was a labor of love,” Cunningham said, as the facility was officially dedicated on Tuesday, Dec. 9. “There’s no other way to put it.”
That labor of love was shown off as the school’s new 10,000 square foot facility officially opened with a ribbon-cutting and reception. As soon as the pomp and circumstance was over, the first event in the facility kicked off -- a hog show.
Cunningham said the facility is tremendously important because it’s going to be an educational outreach for those interested in studying agriculture.
“Between the lean-to, the stall barn and the show barn, the hog lot and compost bin, there is 10,000 square feet under one roof,” Heritage teacher Judy Pearson said.
The project was underwritten by a matching grant from Blount County and the state Department of Agriculture. The County provided the old buildings from the old fairgrounds and the Department of Agriculture matched the value of those buildings, Pearson.
“The mayor’s office has been very supportive,” she said. “Mr. (Alvin) Hord’s school maintenance department helped put in the plumbing, and the kids put up all the tin. We hung the doors, the OSB board and the insulation.”
Agriculture teacher Mark Dowlen said it’s been great to see the students take pride in the project. Many have stayed at the facility late each day working on the barns.
“That’s when you find the ones who really want it,” Dowlen said. “It’s like in softball, the ones who put in extra time not required are the ones who excel.”
Dowlen said there are 150 students in the school’s agriculture department and 80 members of the schools Future Farmer’s of America.
“There are 150 kids but only 10 or 12 come from a farming background,” he said.
The facility gives the students more opportunities and gives them more exposure. “We’ve already been asked to host one of the East Tennessee FFA events,” Dowlen said. “It’s going to give our students regional exposure.”
Dowlen said the facility now has 39 hogs pinned and there are also a dozen head of cattle. The project cost almost $73,000, he said.
Agriculture teacher Jon Waters said the state grant was for $72,991. The county also gave $9,800 for the stall barn and $2,400 for gravel.
“We got a better and larger facility than we initially anticipated,” Waters said.
Waters said students have enthusiastically gotten behind the project.
“That’s what makes us excited is the kids have enjoyed it,” he said. “We feel very, very fortunate and blessed to have this.”
Freshman Madialynne Cupp said the facility was important to students.
“I enjoy agricultural things,” she said. “It’s fun.”
Sophomore Amanda Robinson said she liked the fact students from all over the school helped build the facility.
“One day I can say I helped build it,” she said.
Steve Robinson, Amanda’s father, took a week off from work at Home Depot to help on the building. Students showed initiative in helping build the facility and will be a good example for those who follow, he said.
Ross Payne, Robinson’s grandfather, said facilities such as the one at Heritage are vital. “Agriculture is very important to the area and all of Tennessee,” he said.
School board member John Paul Davis Jr., who served dinner at the reception, took time out to share his thoughts on the importance of the facility.
“It’s critical to the future of agriculture in this community,” he said. “These kids are the future of agriculture in this county.”
Freshman Ciara Branch said it was important to have a place to keep animals, especially for those students who don’t live on a farm. The time and effort spent to build the facility was well worth it.
“It’s been fun,” Branch said. “It’s been work, but it’s been fun.”
Taylor Byrum said the facility teaches responsibility.
“It teaches how to take care of animals and what goes on, on a farm,” she said.
Megan Martin said she and the other students worked hard to prepare the facility.
“I’m going to be mad if I see someone littering this place up,” she said. “We worked hard to keep this clean.”