Miles Community College unveils Ag Advancement Center
A light rain fell softly outside as local ranchers and members of the ag community stepped foot for the first time into Miles Community College’s new Ag Advancement Center. The spacious, light-filled foyer of the facility welcomes students, faculty, visitors and community members to a state-of-the art 36,000 square foot building complete with a large indoor arena, grandstand seating, concession area, classroom and community gathering spaces, faculty offices, and on-site living quarters for a facility manager.
Officially dedicated and opened last week, the Ag Advancement Center is the result of years of thoughtful planning from the MCC Endowment Board. Commitments from regional businesses and individual donors made the dream a reality to provide an indoor learning center to advance the agriculture and equine programs and rodeo team at MCC.
Dr. Stacy Klippenstein, president of MCC, said the idea has been floating around among administration and trustees for many years before coming to fruition. In February 2014 the fundraising campaign launched and a community forum to gather input on design was held in April. Over the next three years, fundraising was completed to construct, furnish and official open the center – almost a year ahead of expectations.
“Miles Community College is in the middle of ag country and there is a growing need for two-year graduates in all facets of ag and equine to fill jobs in ag industries,” says Klippenstein. “Many of our students will graduate, stay in Montana, and work their family ranch or farm.”
MCC currently offers seven degrees in ag and equine studies, including agribusiness, natural resources and range management, wildlife and fisheries biology, animal science (livestock management or pre-vet options), ag production, and equine studies, and a certificate in ag. Students come from numerous small communities across eastern Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. The majority of ag students come from family-owned farm and ranch operations, and most plan to return to the family operation after college.
“MCC now has an academic facility specifically for our ag and equine programs,” says Klippenstein. “In the past, our ag students would travel back and forth between our east and west campuses, and we only had an outdoor arena for our equine courses. When the weather was bad, we would need to find an indoor facility or cancel classes.”
There are approximately 35 students in the ag program, with an additional 15-20 in the equine studies curriculum. With members of the rodeo team included, the total number of students who will directly use the center is around 60. That number is expected to double as quickly as next year. Klippenstein said the college is equipped to add sections of classes to accommodate the growth, as well as additional faculty and support staff when needed. He noted one of the advantages of offering ag courses in this region is the rich wealth of production knowledge of community members who may possibly be tapped to contribute in the future as well.
“Our goal is to become the epicenter of ag education in eastern Montana. This facility allows for growth in our programs, more visibility, and the ability to better recruit students,” Klippenstein said. “Currently, we are already seeing a growth in all programs and more interest from rodeo athletes.”
MCC ag business sophomore and rodeo team member Michael Crews of Miles City said, “It’s going to be a huge benefit to get in here.” The roughstock rider was previously driving 80 miles one way each week to get on practice bulls and broncs. “This was just something we didn’t have on other schools – a winter facility to keep practicing. It really is a dream come true.”
A ribbon cutting ceremony and banquet exclusive to donors was help prior to the open house. Highlighting the dedication of the building was the unveiling of the arena sign – the “Champion Arena” in honor of major donors Bill and Jan Champion of Miles City.
Crews noted the dedication of the arena name was especially touching to him and other members of the team. “It was really cool to see the looks on [Bill and Jan Champion’s] faces when they saw their name on the sign. They are so humble, and have given so much; it was just neat.”
Staying true to the grassroots nature of communities like Miles City, the center is remarkable in that it was funded completely by private individuals and businesses.
John Laney is the executive director of the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce and served as the chair of the Ag Advancement Center Campaign Steering Committee. “The total price tag was around $3.6 million,” said Laney. “And we have 100 percent of that committed through donations – not a penny of federal or state money went into this building.”
Donations came from all counties surrounding Miles City’s Custer County, and beyond.
“That’s one of the neat things worth hanging your hat on,” said Laney. “We went to banks and businesses outside of our county, places that had never donated outside of their county, who contributed in major ways to this. It really helped confirm that we were working on something worth doing, not just to our town, but to our region.
“We like to say that Miles City really is a community of about 10 counties,” said Laney. “As the epicenter of Eastern Montana, we support a very large geographic region. We always tell people to support their own small towns first, but if they can’t get it there, to come to us. We depend on them, and they depend on us.”
The center is reserved exclusively for MCC classes, practice and events Monday through Thursday night. Friday through Sunday are for community events, and the center is already booked months ahead. While visiting with guests at the open house, events like jackpot ropings and rodeos were mentioned, and the possibility of eventually adding a hard surface arena floor to open up new possibilities.
Kim Gibbs is an ag instructor at MCC, and teaches classes in natural sciences, including range and soils. She says that in addition to the tremendous new teaching space and practice arena, the center will provide a central location for students enrolled in ag and equine studies. “In most colleges, there is a common meeting place where all the ag kids hang out – we didn’t have that before. This will really provide a community atmosphere for this group.”
And hopefully that sense of community will become permanent for many of them.
“Something that’s unique about our college is a lot of students who come to Miles City end up loving the area and decide to stay after college. That really adds a lot to our community, and it’s important to Eastern Montana, with our small population,” said Gibbs.
The grassroots contributions to the Ag Advancement Center, in many ways, really did spring up from the grass that provides a living for so many of those who brought it into existence. So maybe the beautiful spring rain coming down on a building that showcases the advancement of agriculture in the region was a subtle reminder of what really is important to everyone involved.
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