It's been a few weeks since I found the time (ok maybe MADE the time is more accurate) to return to COP - life as usual has been very hectic. Our biggest headache right now is the extremely slow progress on our new facility. A little history might help. When I first started at the college after four years teaching in a County Vocational Technical School I taught most classes in "regular" classrooms - meaning they had seats and a blackboard in typical college mentality. I also taught Horticultural Equipment in a parking lot - really! The equipment was all stored in a garage that had no electricity so the parking lot was all we had. I taught plant related classes in an "inside" greenhouse - an interior room with no natural light equipped with florescent lighting. After two years like that they built us a "facility". It was a pole barn and since they ran out of money it had a gravel floor and no heat in half of it while the other half had a concrete floor and very inadequate heating. In fact the heaters AND thermostat for them were on the ceiling - apparently architects never heard that hot air rises. Oh - I almost forgot - they also left off bathrooms!! Ok - no big deal you might thing - except that like we see on some many school campuses - our building is about 3/4 of a mile from the rest of the school and the nearest bathrooms. After another 2 years we finally got bathrooms and also an on-site office. And for the past 24 years this very modest building has been our home. We got a concrete floor and heat in the back room, and over the years added enough technology to make the front room into a state of the art computer lab and classroom.
Of course there were still problems - since we were at the lowest spot topographically on campus all campus runoff came to us - and if the right (or wrong) combination of snow melt and/or heavy rain hit we would flood, getting up to 4" of water in our office and lab. We managed, adding drains that reduced the frequency of flooding and also making sure that everything was at least 4 inches above the floor - helps to have bricks in stock.
Every year when administration asked what I wanted I'd ask for a new facility. I'd make sure that the new facility was in every strategic plan I had to do and I made sure to talk about our needs to everyone.They finally (back in 1995) agreed to add our new building to the Facilities Master Plan, promising action within five years. Yes that was back in 1995. In the meantime we continued to do our job, our students continued to graduate and go on to own or manage very successful horticulture businesses or transfer to Universities all across the country. We landscaped around our building and in general patiently waited for action. But nothing happened . . . until 2007.
In 2007 Nancy Trivette, our New Jersey Agricultural Education Program Leader, encouraged me to apply for the NAAE Outstanding Post-secondary Program Award. I resisted, thinking there was no way our little program operating in our little pole barn could possibly measure up to the "big dogs" but when Nancy thinks you should do something you WILL do it. So I did and the rest, as they say, is history. We were chosen first in Region VI and embarked on a celebration that to a large degree continues. We planned a reception and the college agreed to pay but allowed me to invite who I wanted - and I wanted everyone! The college thought about 30 would show but well over 100 horticulture professionals, ag teachers with their students, graduates of our program, and even our Secretary of Agriculture came. Two of our college's Board of Trustee members came as well - the first time that had happened in our history. It was a great day!
The trustees who came went back to report to our full Board that something had to be done - that a Nationally Recognized Program should not have to work in substandard conditions. They convinced the rest that our new building was long overdue - and within a few months planning began. We broke ground in May 2010 and all was well until they found some contaminated soil (from an old ice house that had operated on the site 75 years ago). Since then they took down one of our two greenhouses and almost had to take down our current pole barn. We are living with a huge mess in our front yard and a huge pile of excavated soil in our back compound and my students should get extra credit just for being able to find their way into the building. Completion is anticipated to be September 2011 - so please keep your fingers crossed. The new building will house a Design Studio, Computer Lab, and 2 Science Labs, offices, a conference room, and yes - bathrooms!
What's the lesson here? Perseverance pays off - but in hindsight maybe we were too patient all those years. Learn what matters to those who decide funding. Numbers matter - it is not enough to be good if you only have 5 students in your class. We need to keep enrollment in agriculture classes strong -not just for ourselves but because those students are needed to fill the gaps in agriscience, agriculture, natural resource, and food science professionals that are only expected to increase. And don't be afraid to blow your own horn - trust me - the squeaky wheel really DOES get the grease.