Editor's note: This story is from our RURAL LIVING special section, printed inside the Thursday, June 17 Perham Focus and Wadena Pioneer Journal. See RURAL LIVING for more great stories like this one.
An idea first planted five years ago -- to have an agricultural center on the Perham-Dent Public School District campus -- is beginning to take root.
Perham High School Principal Ehren Zimmerman and science teacher Susan Tostenson have been hashing out ideas for a potential new ag center for the past five years, Zimmerman told the school board at a recent meeting, and they've come up with a proposal that addresses short-term goals as well as a longer-range vision for the district's agricultural department.
The short-term part of the proposal seeks to have the district's existing greenhouse, which was recently relocated from the old high school property, up and ready at its new permanent site near the new high school in time for the start of next school year. It would be adjoined with a new headhouse (general storage and work area), which would allow for a covered entrance and would look similar to the exterior of the district's Career Tech Center. That work would all be done prior to September 1.
Longer-term, the proposal calls for the development and eventual construction of a more expansive and comprehensive agricultural facility, one that would include not only the existing seasonal greenhouse and proposed headhouse, but also an adjoining 4-season greenhouse, classroom area with a wet lab, restrooms and more. It would be a self-sufficient building.
A facility like this, the proposal states, would allow the district to expand its agricultural programming across all K-12 grade levels. It would also bring all school and community ag classes, FFA and other ag programs together under one roof. The expanded programming would help create job skills aligned with community and regional career fields, and the new steel building would create "more meaningful classroom space at a reasonable cost."
The proposal asks the school board to consider the development of a task force to explore the possibilities further.
"It's taken a lot of passion and unbelievable resources to get this together," Zimmerman said of the proposal.
Zimmerman noted the Wahpeton School District for its innovative educational ag facility, recently completed with collaboration and support from the Wahpeton, N.D. community, as an example of another district in the region that has already opened up this type of facility. He said that same potential exists in Perham.
"We have a lot of room to grow in that education world," he said.
For now, the most immediate need is to get the existing greenhouse relocated to its new permanent site near the high school. It's been resting at a temporary site since April 26, when it was moved over from the old high school. Joe Foltz construction has been contracted to place the greenhouse on concrete footings at its permanent spot, which was developed during the design phase of the new high school. That spot allows for an eventual expansion of a larger ag center.
“We’re really excited to have that opportunity to bring the old (greenhouse) over here and hopefully, eventually, build around it and explore K-12 education instead of just high school,” Tostenson said at the school board meeting.
The board is expected to consider the ag center proposal further at future meetings. At the time this story went to press, no official action had been taken to either grant or deny any of the requests made in the proposal.