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Ag Center meeting results in overwhelming support
Almost 300 people gathered at the FFA/FCCLA Center for a public information meeting.

Some 300 people gathered on Tuesday night to listen to details regarding the proposed site for the Newton County Agricultural Center at the FFA-FCCLA Center.

Keith Ellis, Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chair, thanked the Ag Center Committee, appointed after the passage of the 2011 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) and made up of a combination of community agricultural leaders and landowners, elected officials and county employees in the financial, facilities and Geographic Information System (GIS) departments.

Ellis also thanked State Senator Rick Jeffares and Representative Dave Belton, both present at the meeting, for helping to secure the state funding for this facility.

“Without the state money, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Ellis said.

Ted Wynne, the County Extension Agent, spoke in support of the ag center for educational and outreach purposes. With approximately 1,200 local students enrolled in 4-H programs and with additional space needed those programs, the proposed center would be used “greatly” by the 4-H program and Extension office.

Sprinkled throughout the audience were the blue jackets of FFA chapter members. When Marcus Pollard, FFA Coordinator at the Newton College and Career Academy (NCCA), stood to speak in support of the ag center, the audience reacted with applause.

Pollard noted that in his four years in Newton County, he has seen the FFA program grow, most notably this year with the addition of a new chapter at NCCA, almost 200 new members and a sixth agricultural teacher in the system. Over 700 Newton County students participate in FFA programs and, Pollard noted, “we are really proud of our facilities out behind the school but we have outgrown our facilities.”

Newton County Farm Bureau President Brent Galloway gave a history of the project before pledging Farm Bureau’s support. Working with many groups throughout the community, from youth to legislators, Farm Bureau was an original stakeholder in the project concept and worked with the Newton County BOC to place it on the 2011 SPLOST, which was passed by voters in March 2011.

With one in seven Georgians employed in agriculture as a $74 billion industry for the state, supporting agricultural growth and programs in Newton County is “the reason we pushed it so hard and will continue to push it. We definitely have a need for it,” Galloway said.

Earnest Nichols, President of the Piedmont Cattlemen’s Association, which includes Newton as well as four surrounding counties, stated support of the ag center, noting the regional impact of this project.

“Most of our members are from Newton County,” Nichols said. “It’s not just gonna to help out Newton County but it’s gonna help out Jasper County and Butts County as well. There’s gonna be a lot of people coming from I-75, from I-20. That will bring a lot of revenue for these other counties as well as Newton County.”

Todd Teasley, Director of the Georgia FFA/FCCLA Center, then took the podium to explain the conceptual plans of this proposed Newton County Agricultural Center. “This is not one person’s vision but the work of many over many years.”

The proposed site for the ag center is on 40 acres of land in the front pasture of the FFA/FCCLA Center. Though the arena will be visible from Hwy 36, the facility as currently placed, will be over 2,000-feet from Hwy 36. In addition, the proposed site also has a natural buffer from the FFA/FHA Camp Road.

The proposed facility will include a large equine covered pavilion, an outdoor equine arena, a small indoor climate controlled arena, stalls for horses, cattle, pigs, sheep and goats, as well as office space and classroom/meeting room spaces.

Teasley noted that though a design developer had not been employed, Sunbelt Builders had donated a set of conceptual drawings.

According to Teasley, the vision is for the proposed facility is to have fees that are significantly lower than those of the larger facilities that are “unreasonable for smaller, youth-centered events.”

Target users would include local and regional livestock shows, youth horse shows, livestock and horse camps and clinics, educational and civic organization meetings, with most proposed uses under 300 people in attendance.

“This is going to be designed with our youth in mind,” said Teasley.

Once the formal statements and presentation were over, Ellis opened up the floor to citizen comments and questions. From high school freshmen in FFA to current farmers to horse enthusiasts, the vast majority of comments were in overwhelming support of the project.

As a single voice of dissent, Sarah Dauby, a resident of the area, noted the perceived need for other development in the area, including a grocery store, and concern for the potential increase in the volume of traffic on Hwy 36.

Ellis announced to the audience that a resolution for a partnership between the county and the FFA/FCCLA Center to build, manage, and operate the ag center would be on the agenda of the next Board of Commissioners.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners will meet next on Tuesday, August 2 at 7 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse.