Jul. 31—TIFTON — With funding secured for the construction phase of a $14.4 million agricultural facilities project, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College President David Bridges said ABAC is ready “to step into the future of agriculture.”

“Agricultural technology is the future of agriculture at ABAC,” Bridges said. “These new facilities will allow us to train ABAC students with cutting-edge technology in state-of-the-art facilities, making sure that ABAC graduates are ready to go to work. Agriculture continues to be Georgia’s largest industry, and we want to be a part of fueling the future.”

Bridges said Georgia legislators approved $1.1 million in planning money for the agricultural facilities enhancement project in the 2021 fiscal year and then followed that up with $11.8 million in construction funding for the existing year. He said he hopes that lawmakers fund $1.5 million in equipment costs in Fiscal Year 2023 to complete the $14.4 million project.

“We had a record enrollment in the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources last fall, and we could top that number when fall semester classes begin in a couple of weeks,” Bridges said. “ABAC is now the leading producer of work force-ready graduates for Georgia’s No. 1 industry, agriculture.

“We’re supporting a portion of these students with aging buildings that were not designed for the scope or scale of programs today. Some of our students go to classes in facilities designed for the ABAC enrollment in 1971 when the Chambliss Building was constructed.”

Mark Kistler, dean of ABAC’s School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said he believes the renovation of the Chambliss Building and the construction of the new Agricultural Technology Center broaden the foundation for programs that are already on the move.

“The new Agricultural Technology Center provides much-needed facilities for our growing Agricultural Technology and Systems Management program,” Kistler said. “The covered, open-air multipurpose space can be used for numerous types of teaching and demonstration activities.

“The Chambliss renovation will provide a home for the Agricultural Education and Communication Department, which will include a state-of -the-art agricultural sciences classroom/laboratory; upgraded space for our Agricultural Engineering faculty, staff; Agricultural Technology experiential laboratories, and improved space for our Georgia Agricultural Education partners.”

ABAC Director of Facilities and Land Resources Tim Carpenter said the project includes 28,000 square feet of new construction and renovation of the 22,215-square-foot Chambliss Building.

Carpenter said the new construction includes a pre-engineered steel structure with brick veneer containing three elements, including a high-bay clear span shop to support the large-scale equipment necessary for modern agricultural engineering technology, precision agriculture, and forestry program operations; a high bay clear span covered structure for livestock and animal science instruction, youth programs, equipment operation and display, and other related activities that would benefit from a covered open air venue; and central connector space including restrooms, service space, instructional space, office and service space, and facility storage.

“The renovation of the Chambliss Building will include enhanced specialized labs to support smaller-scale equipment and materials involved in agriculture, technology, forestry, and agricultural education programs,” Carpenter said. “Upgraded shop functions will include welding, hydraulics, engine, machine, and fabrication. The renovation will also include classrooms, offices and service space.”

Bridges is quite familiar with the facilities involved in the renovation since they were in use when he was an ABAC student in 1978.

“The facilities involved in this enhancement project are woefully undersized and unable to accommodate modern equipment,” he said. “Agriculture is a complex, high-technology business that requires leaders with general knowledge and keen problem-solving skills. Mastering these abilities requires hands-on learning.

“Courses in agricultural engineering, agricultural technology, and mechanization are critically important for students in Agricultural Technology and Systems Management and in Agricultural Education. This upgrade will probably prolong the life of these facilities another 30 years.”

A total of 3,990 students from 19 states, 24 countries, 155 of Georgia’s 159 counties, and 53 of Florida’s 67 counties enrolled at ABAC for the 2020 fall semester. A record 1,360 of those students chose programs in the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

For the past three years, ABAC has led all colleges and universities in the Southeast in the number of Agricultural Education graduates. The number of graduates should climb in the future with the addition of ABAC courses equipping Agricultural Education graduates with the skills to teach pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students. ABAC is the first college in the nation to offer that curriculum.

Classes begin for the fall semester at ABAC on Aug. 10.