BY SHELBY NIEHAUS
Brownstown CUSD 201 workers make trips back and forth between the back of the high school and a storage building near the south parking lot, moving trailer-load after trailer-load of stored desks and furniture out of the former vo-ag building.
Normally, there wouldn’t be a reason to take so many things out of storage, but space is at a premium now. For the first time in years, the vo-ag building, which had operated as storage space since Brownstown closed its agriculture program years ago, will soon be renovated and prepared for the relaunch of the program in 2020-2021.
Brownstown superintendent Mike Shackelford accompanied the St. Elmo Banner on a brief trip through the vo-ag building on Wednesday, Feb. 12, detailing plans for its transformation into the agriculture building. Currently, plans for the building split its interior into two sections: the classrooms, which will be housed inside the brick portion of the building, and the ag mechanics shop, which will be housed in the metal-sided portion of the building.
The brick wing will have two classrooms, separated by a lobby behind the east-facing entrance door. A classroom on the north end of the building will be set up tentatively as a space for family and consumer sciences classes, in case the district chooses to reopen that department at a later date; while the classroom will be finished during the rebuild, it will not be furnished with cooking appliances at present. The south classroom, which will be connected to the ag mechanics shop by a set of doors, will be the agriculture classroom for the six classes planned in the department’s schedule. This classroom will also host several cubbies and lockers just outside of the ag mechanics shop entrance, in order for mechanics students to store their belongings outside of the workspace. And, of course, the building will be updated with lighting and a new HVAC system, as well as technology on par with what the rest of the district currently provides.
In what will become the ag mechanics shop is a set of up-to-code bathrooms and a tool storage closet; these will be updated for student use, and the tool storage closet will be cleared of district tools and allowed for the agriculture department’s use only. A teacher’s office will be installed beside that, along the south wall, with interior windows looking into the mechanics shop floor. Shackelford says that the northwest corner will also feature a ventilation system and a set of four welding booths; in the rest of the room, the new agriculture teacher is given largely “a carte blanche to build what she wants [the space] to be.”
The outside of the building, Shackelford says, will also need some work. The brick portion of the building will be sandblasted, tuck-pointed, and sealed, and will be given new guttering, a roof, and windows in a style similar to the new windows on the main junior/senior high building. (Shackelford notes that one window on the old portion of the building, which faces west directly into the metal-sided portion of the building beside it, will not be replaced with a new style.) The metal portion of the building will be stripped “pretty much down to the bare frame,” Shackelford says, and will receive insulation, wiring, and new roofing and windows like the brick portion of the building.
A garage door, currently facing south off the brick portion of the building, will be removed and walled off. Another door may be installed in the brick portion of the building on either the west or the north wall, for use as a direct exit out of the unconnected classroom in case of emergency.
Bollards will be installed between the agriculture building and the school to block off a portion of road, keeping out through traffic in the area where students will need to walk to reach the building. The newly-blocked-off parking lot will also be resurfaced with concrete.
Renovations will cost around $377,000, Shackelford says, though no taxpayer will see any rise in their property taxes. Thanks to funds arriving in from the one-cent tax (a one-percent sales tax on non-essential items, specifically earmarked for use on school facilities), Brownstown’s district has enough funding to perform renovations on the building without creating a burden on the rest of its budget. “We’re doing all this, and it’s not going to add a single cent to any property tax. That’s the beauty of the one-cent sales tax,” Shackelford said.
The new agriculture teacher’s hire, meanwhile, was made possible through evidence-based funding. Evidence-based funding is a funding formula signed into state law in August of 2017, which adds a tier funding system on top of a school’s base funding disbursements in order to send funds to the state’s “most under-resourced students.”
“It’s always been a struggle twofold. One, you couldn’t afford the teacher… but also, there’s no money for facilities. Prior to the one-percent facilities sales tax passing, we didn’t $377,000 to put into this building,” Shackelford said.
“The fact that the communities in Fayette county gave us that resource, and [that] the state, in the change to how they fund the schools, those two things have made it possible for us.”
Shackelford is eager to see the agriculture program’s launch next year. “We feel like career and technical education—ag, welding—those are hands-on, real skills that are going to help kids the day they walk across that stage.”
“It’s been gone for too long. It’s time to bring it back.”