PERRY, Ill. — John Wood Community College student Kacie McCleery dreams of becoming an ag teacher and introducing her students to opportunities available in the industry.
One way could be activities held at a planned multipurpose facility at the Orr Research Center.
"This is really opening up new possibilities for a lot of students," McCleery said. "It's going to be good."
A $300,000 gift from Compeer Financial, announced Wednesday, jump-started fundraising efforts for the $2 million facility that will house offices and classrooms, an exposition/arena space and animal care unit designed for short-term or temporary housing for livestock.
The gift, the largest to date from the company's Fund for Rural America, marks an investment in agriculture and rural communities.
"Providing an opportunity to learn about agriculture, explore the industry and develop leaders is very important to Compeer," said Shannon Ganschow with Compeer, a member-owned Farm Credit cooperative serving and supporting agriculture and rural communities throughout 144 counties in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. "Our mission at Compeer Financial is to champion the hopes and dreams of rural America. I can't think of a better way to express our commitment to agriculture and rural communities than by supporting this agricultural facility."
Compeer's gift is part of some $870,000 in commitments from private, corporate and governmental funding sources for the project.
Orr Corp. Chairman Matt Bradshaw expects to have the majority of the funding for the facility secured by the end of the year.
"We're working on additional sponsors. We have several proposals out there and talks going on with different corporations and organizations that want to be involved in our project," Bradshaw said.
Plans call for breaking ground on the 24,000-square-feet facility in spring or early summer 2021 with a dedication planned in early 2022.
"The new facility we have proposed will not only expand our offerings but also present more opportunities to bring in other agencies and organizations to benefit from this facility," Bradshaw said.
In an area with a heavy density of livestock, the facility will offer a designated wing for livestock, "not only production livestock but animal husbandry, companion animals, wildlife and additional environmental issues to improve our area even more," Bradshaw said.
The corporation sees potential uses for the facility ranging from classroom lab space to events for the ag community for the facility planned on a site just south of the current parking area and east of two U of I metal buildings behind the existing classroom building.
JWCC proposed the multipurpose building in 2016 as a way to enhance its agricultural program, and the project quickly won support from the board of the West Central Illinois Agriculture Research and Demonstration Center, Inc., more commonly known as the Orr Center Corp.
By 2017, the Orr Corp. made the facility a priority after a potential funding source fell through, pledging to pursue private and industry donations for the project along with state support.
An intergovernmental agreement signed in February between John Wood Community College and the University of Illinois cleared the way for the corporation to move forward with building the facility, which is included in the JWCC Master Plan.
"It's a facility that allows us to serve at a higher level … and provide a unique setting for educational opportunities," JWCC President Mike Elbe said. "We want to create a bigger footprint to make a greater impact in our rural communities and the ag industry."
The facility also marks another step in the 40-year partnership between the University of Illinois, the corporation and JWCC to create "unique approaches for expanding teaching, research and outreach efforts in agriculture," Kim Kidwell, dean of the U of I's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, said in a statement read by Elbe.
"With this endeavor, we will be able to tell our eager-to-learn ACES students that new educational programs are available in livestock evaluation, animal care and wildlife conservation through our partners at John Wood Community College and the Orr Center," she said. "Best of all, perhaps, we will be able to tell the ACES community that support continues to abound for the work they do today, tomorrow and years from now – thanks to partnerships and leaders focused firmly on the future."