Herald and Journal, May 7, 2001

Ag/science center takes another step

By Lynda Jensen

More than a dozen Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted educators and students went to the Minnesota Legislature to testify in favor of grant money for the future regional ag/science center April 16.

The effort is another step in the pursuit of grants toward the dream for the center at the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School, which will work in conjunction with the University of Minnesota.

Although the mom and pop farm with 40 acres and eight dairy cows is a chapter in American history, the related job fields that manifest the attractive features of farming: pride, dignity, self reliance, and working with natural resources, are very much a vibrant possibility in the jobs of the 21st century, Superintendent Riley Hoheisel said.

The ag/science center could offer subjects such as horticulture, plant science, hydroponics, aqua-culture, and food sciences, with access to a greenhouse and lab work available as part of the curriculum, he said.

Eventually, it is possible the center could offer high-level courses such as molecular and cellular biology, genetics, and biochemistry, among other subjects. This could lead to the medical, agricultural or environmental fields, among others, he said.

It may also partner down the road with the county extension office, educational workshops and summer programs for agriculture education. There is a possibility of partnering with the Raptor Center as well, Hoheisel said. Anything is possible, he said.

In addition, there is a charter school for urban education due to open this fall in Roseville, that would complement opportunities at the HLWW regional center of agriculture science.

He envisions busloads of students coming and going from all over the region, with University of Minnesota professors teaching classes, including two-way interactive and Internet courses, Hoheisel said.

Students here could earn college credits or be taught college level courses right in the district's backyard, he said.

Despite governor's budget, outlook is very good

Although the tax reform plan for Gov. Jessie Ventura is not favorable toward schools, this does reflect on the center's attempt at grants, Hoheisel said.

The ag/science center is perceived as being more of an agricultural issue than a school funding issue, he said.

Legislators want to support the center, probably because it can help breathe new life into a lagging agricultural industry, which remains the backbone of the state's economy, he said.

The center takes the best of the old and the new, drawing the genuine interest of rural students who want to pursue agricultural-related fields into legitimate 21st century job fields, Hoheisel said.

Three local legislators are in favor of the center's concept - Sen. Steve Dille, and Rep. Tony Kielkucki who both sponsored bills in the senate and house respectively, and Rep. Bob Ness, who has been actively involved.

If the current grant from the Minnesota Legislature is received, it will be in addition to the ag/science center's traditional funding, Hoheisel said.

Theoretically, the school district will find out whether the grant was successful May 21, when the legislative session is over, Hoheisel said.

So far, grants have been received totalling $19,000 so far, with other grants being applied for by a grant writer hired by the school, Hoheisel said.

Some heavyweight grants in particular, such as a distance learning grant being offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could yield hundreds of thousands of dollars - some for even millions, if they are awarded to HLWW.

"The outlook is very positive," Hoheisel said.

Infrastructure and location

The ag/science center is planned to be built as one building.

The location will be on the west side of the Ray Fiecke property, located 1/4 mile north of the Winsted city limits, as part of the future HLWW high school location.

The Fiecke property contains 70 acres on the west side, with an additional 80 acres of land on the east side, Hoheisel said.

There is property across the road on the east side that may be used for crop plots and for future expansion, Hoheisel said.

The agreement with Fiecke, pending board approval, expires Dec. 31, 2002, which will allow the school to find out if the bond referendum will pass before it follows through with any site preparation or construction, Hoheisel said.

On the broader scheme of things, the location of the HLWW district is perfect as a gateway to greater Minnesota and rural students there, while still being within reach of the Twin Cities area, Hoheisel said.

Next year, there will be three schools looking for grants for ag-related school ventures, HLWW, Thief River Falls, and the Roseville school, Hoheisel said.

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