Bristol Aggie Plans State-of-the-Art $104 Million Expansion
Next fall, Bristol County Agricultural High School will break ground on a $104 million project to add approximately 196,000 square feet to its facilities, thanks to a grant from the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority) for $51,428,124. The remainder of the estimated total in cost will be provided by the tuition and debt per student paid by participating towns. The expansion will increase the school’s capacity from 450 to nearly 600 students. This project has been approved by three layers of decision-makers: the school’s Trustees, the three Bristol County Commissioners, and the Advisory Board, which has representatives from every city in Bristol County; following which the bill was approved by the Massachusetts House and Senate. According to Superintendant Adele Sands, “Our goal with the expansion and renovation is to become a hub of agricultural and environmental research, conversation and invention for the Commonwealth and beyond.”
Bristol Aggie is a Chapter 74 public vocational and agricultural public school situated on 300 acres on the Taunton River in Dighton, and houses a working farm, with upwards of 800 animals on campus integral to various programs. Majors offered include Animal Science, Floriculture, Arboriculture, Landscape Design and Contracting, Agricultural Mechanics/Diesel Technology, and Natural Resource Management. Students who attend the school go through a rigorous application process. In addition to required academic work, students have the opportunity for hands-on learning directly relevant to their career choices. Many go on to attend pre-veterinary college programs. Superintendant Adele Sands says, “Students who go to school here are hard working, diligent and bright, they are problem solvers, innovators and research assistants.” She adds, “Because they want to be here, they are enthusiastic about hard work. They actually have life goals. I am so impressed by them every day.”
Center for Science and the Environment is the Centerpiece
A new building, the Center for Science and the Environment will comprise the first and biggest portion of the expansion. It will house Animal Science, Natural Resources and the new Environmental Science programs. Once this building is complete, all classes held in the existing Gilbert Hall will be transferred to the new building while Gilbert Hall is completely renovated.
Replacing Antiquated Buildings
One of the facilities made a dramatic impression on the decision makers when they toured the existing campus is the former chicken coop that houses the small animal programs. On the wintry day of the visit, students were wearing down jackets inside while attending classes. That’s because the building’s heating source is just a unit running down the center of the ceiling in the hallway. The building houses anatomy and biology labs, the small animal room where animals including ferrets and chinchillas live, the bird room, the rabbit room where students learn about genetics and animal breeding, a dog grooming lab and a doggie day care program.
Student Commons Will be a Gathering Place
A new Student Commons building across the plaza from Gilbert Hall will house the cafeteria, a favorite institution at Bristol Aggie. Students consistently praise the “lunch ladies” and appreciate their culinary talents creating delicious meals from produce grown and tended by students on campus. Chicken and beef raised by the school are also sometimes on the menu. This is just one example of the sustainability goals the school aims for.
Agricultural Mechanics/Diesel Technology to be Renovated
The Agricultural Mechanics building will be completely renovated, according to Shawn Howard, Department Chair. A recent grant provided upgraded welding booths. The floor plan will be restructured to make it more functional, divided into labs and two large classrooms, and the doors will be changed. Lifts will be installed for working on trucks and equipment. An augmented virtual reality welding unit will provide beginners with practice learning safety procedures, before working with hands-on welding equipment.
State-of-the-Art Dairy Barn
A robotic dairy barn will be built to replace the old barn, so that students in farm and dairy management programs will be able to gain experience with the latest technology and procedures. The farm currently has a herd of dairy and beef cattle, in addition to chickens, pigs, sheep and even a llama. The sheep are the CVM variety, specially prized for their wool, and students will eventually be developing and marketing wool products.
The Floriculture department greenhouses will not be changed. They are special constructions originally brought in from Holland and are in good condition. Students there learn every step from seed to harvest, propagating and raising plants for sale and use by the school.
Saving Turtles and Other Wildlife
The Natural Resource Management Department has the use of a section of the greenhouse as a protected nursery for baby turtles, very tiny infants of three endangered species that would have a hard time surviving in the wild. The students care for them until they large enough to make it on their own, whereupon they will be released back into their natural habitats. Before entering the locked room, students and staff must wash their hands and wipe their shoes on a special wet cleansing mat that removes outside contaminants. The school has special permits to provide this “head starting”. Department Head Brian Bastarache leads students partnering with US Department of Fish and Wildlife, other government agencies and universities in several states (MA, GA, CT and NJ) to help vulnerable species, including a program to help endangered cottontails. Last year sophomores were called upon to help band baby eagles that were 5 weeks old.
“Aggie Air” Drones Soar into the Future
The school’s new high tech drone program will have a classroom/command center in the new building. A recent half-million-dollar grant helped establish “Aggie Air” with drones, flight simulators, 3D printers, a large format printer, smart boards, smart tables and other technology that students will need to know how to use in the “real” world. Ms. Sands says, “We are so grateful that the Department of Education saw value and were forward thinking enough to read our proposal and fund this project. It is the wave of the future, cutting edge.”
The school has a fleet of 48 drones that students are learning to use for looking at species migration, monitoring crops, checking roofs for leaks, measuring and inspecting roofs for solar panels, in arboriculture for checking on issues like gypsy moth infestation. “We can collect a huge amount of data in a small amount of time”, Vice Principal Brian Higgins says. A 75 acre field can be mapped in about 8 minutes. Higgins and three other faculty members have FAA Certification as drone pilots. The Natural Resource Management department will be incorporating drones into the class curriculum.
The school is located at 135 Center Street in Dighton, MA 02715. For information call 508-669-6744 or visit the school’s website at https://www.bristolaggie.org/bristolaggie.