MILES CITY—Wally Badgett is one of many people looking forward to construction of a $3.2 million Agricultural Advancement Center on the west end of Miles City.
He coaches the rodeo team at Miles Community College, the only team in the region without an indoor arena. But the rodeo season is in the fall and spring, so most of the time the team does just fine outdoors, and in a pinch it can rent a private indoor arena outside of town.
The problem is more acute for the college’s equine instructor, who happens to be Badgett’s son, Brett Badgett. His classes don’t quit for the winter.
“When it’s snowing and 20 below, it’s kind of hard to do anything,” Wally Badgett said.
The Ag Advancement Center would give everyone—the college’s agricultural and equine programs and the rodeo team—a year-round home. It would have a 20,000-square foot indoor arena, three classrooms for ag and equine studies and seating for 500 people.
“I don’t think there’s anything like it in this part of the world,” Badgett said.
Plans for the center began taking shape six years ago, and they were fairly modest. At the time, the college was thinking of building an $800,000 pole barn. Then, two years ago, the college hosted a listening and brainstorming session involving representatives of rodeo, livestock sales yards, barrel racing and agriculture in general.
Out of that meeting came the goal of building a $3.2 million ag center that would serve not only the college but the whole community. The fundraising is a joint project of the college’s board of trustees, its endowment board and members of the community.
Campaign co-chairs are John Laney, director of the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce, and Julie Nowicki, an insurance agent with the Wacker Agency in Miles City.
“It’s an awful, awful lot of money, but we’ve run onto a lot of generous people,” Laney said. “We’re halfway to our fundraising goal.”
The campaign got a huge boost last fall, when an anonymous donor kicked in $1 million. Other contributions have come from all the local banks, in addition to the Garfield County Bank, the First State Bank of Forsyth and the Bank of Baker. That shows that people see how important the center will be to the region’s agricultural economy, Laney said.
“They understood and recognize that this is a huge facility for what we do around here,” he said.
“It was fantastic,” MCC President Stacy Klippenstein said. “Our donation from Jordan—I think that was the first time they donated out of the county. We’ve been very excited about the generosity of the other communities.”
Klippenstein said about 40 percent of the 420 students currently enrolled in the college are in agriculture or equine studies, and most MCC students want to stay in Eastern Montana after graduation. That helps explain why a recent study by the state of Montana identified Custer County as the only one in southeastern Montana projected to have a population increase in the next 20 years, he said.
However, according to a fact sheet put out by the fundraising group, enrollment has declined in the past few years because of the lack of indoor facilities. The college does have some stables, an outdoor rodeo arena and a greenhouse out near where the ag center is going to be built, across the road from the Miles City Livestock Commission.
The proposed ag center was designed by Stevenson Design Inc., of Miles City. Laney said requests for proposals from general contractors will go out at the end of this month, but no groundbreaking date has been set yet. He said the college wants to be closer to its fund-raising goal before going to a bank for a construction loan. But if all goes well, he said, it’s possible the center will be operational by fall semester 2016.
“We’re not going to push it,” Kilppenstein said. “Our goal is to do this right.”
Miles Community College offers a variety of degrees in agriculture—six associate of science degrees, two associate of applied science degrees and one certificate program. In the equine program, there is an associate of arts degree and an associate of applied science degree.
Among courses that would be taught at the ag center are Introduction to Animal Science, Livestock Feeding and Nutrition, Range Pasture Monitoring, Natural Horsemanship, Equine Sales and Marketing, Hoof Care Science, Starting Colts, Livestock Handling and Roping, and Functional Anatomy of Domestic Animals.
Klippenstein said MCC instructors are confident they could double enrollment in the ag and equine programs if the center were built. Also, he said, “it would really help us with our recruiting for rodeo.”
In keeping with the goal of making it a community center, Laney said the plan is to reserve it for use by the college Monday through Thursday, then make it available for community events Friday through Sunday. Events would include rodeos and barrel races, and Badgett said there’s no reason it couldn’t be used for car shows, archery competition and the like.
“I think once you get it up, it’s going to be busy all the time,” he said.