EAST MANATEE -- After 10 years of repurposing and renovating former University of Florida buildings, Braden River High School is slated to get a pole barn later this year, allowing the biggest agriculture program in Manatee County to house more animals.
The Manatee County School Board approved a $101,000 contract this week to build the new pole barn at the school, which serves more than 500 students in its agriculture program.
"It'll give us more room," said Deb Barry, Agriculture Department head. "This is amazing and we're really grateful."
The pole barn will allow the program to have separate facilities for swine and
steer, and will include proper drainage and other systems formerly lacking at the school. The inner walls will be interchangeable and include up to 10 stalls for animals inside. Outside, there will be bleachers for clinics and other events.
"The idea is we can make it what we need it to be," Barry said.
Students who join the agriculture program take a basic introduction class and choose a livestock or horticulture path after completing the prerequisite class, Barry said. While in the program, students can join the FFA chapter and work toward three different industry certifications.
Although the measure was just approved Tuesday, students in the agriculture program say they are already looking forward to the new barn.
"It's super exciting," said 17-year-old Micah Gallagher, a senior and FFA chapter president.
Where the swine are housed now is the former potting barn for the University of Florida, which often floods with heavy rain. Students then have to dig trenches.
"With our new barn, we won't have these type of learning problems," Micah said.
Sophomore Jordan Hill, 15, transferred to Haile Middle School in seventh grade to get involved with the agriculture program before heading to Braden River High. His cousin was working with livestock and he wanted to get involved, too.
Hill said he'd like to become a veterinarian. He's getting a small taste of that while he's still in high school.
"It's awesome that I'll be more prepared," Hill said. "I won't have to start from the very beginning."
The project, which costs $157,457, also includes professional services, site work, electrical/plumbing, permitting and inspections. Those costs and services are covered by other board-approved bids.
The school board awarded the bid to JK Fowler General Contracting, a general contractor in Bradenton, without comment.
Funding comes from local taxes tied to capital improvements and was included in the 2015-16 budget plan, according to the Manatee County School District.
The school and district administration and local community agencies have supported the program, Barry said, adding about 80 percent of the projects at the school -- including hydroponic plant structures and materials -- are funded through grants.
"Our administration and our district is so supportive," she said. "They really understood the need for the pole barn."
Barry and construction officials plan for the barn to be done by the end of the year. JK Fowler President Kurt Fowler said he plans to have people on site by Friday and is looking at a mid-November finish.
"I've got everybody set up and it looks good so far," he said.
The poles will be rooted into the concrete to prevent them from uplifting, Fowler said.
"It's well engineered and it's strong," he said. "It's not your average pole barn."
This is the first time Fowler has worked with the school district. Fowler, a one-man operation, subs out to other specialists. He tends to focus on residential projects and small commercial work.
He's worked with the county before on a Little League concession stand in Lakewood Ranch.