BAYLIS, Ill. — The world’s agricultural needs are changing, and West Central Illinois is meeting the challenge with a new agricultural education center that invests in the future of farming. John Wood Community College opened the doors to the Agricultural Sciences Complex and the Fred L. Bradshaw Learning Center with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 9 in Baylis, just in time for fall classes.
The 24,000-square-foot multipurpose space will help build a strong rural economy through agricultural research, education, and development opportunities and is the result of a unique longtime partnership between the community, JWCC, and University of Illinois.
The facility at the JWCC Agricultural Education Center and the U of I Orr Agricultural Research & Demonstration Center was designed to meet a variety of agricultural education needs and enhance regional research projects. Students will have access to hands-on learning opportunities with an animal care unit, an exposition area, and on-site crop test plots. It will also serve as a resource for local 4-H clubs and FFA chapters and host events, such as livestock contests and demonstrations for environmental organizations.
Plans for the new $2.5 million facility began in 2016, and the college broke ground in August 2021.
This collaborative project leverages the strength of a 45-year collaboration between U of I, JWCC, and the Orr Research Center Corporation. Since 1978, U of I animal and crop scientists in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences have helped area row crop and beef producers by sharing the results of research and development projects hosted at The Orr Center.
Germán Bollero, interim dean of the U of I College of ACES, attended the center’s opening, noting that the new facility will have an immediate positive impact on the region.
“This is something the community should be proud of,” Bollero said. “We’re here not only to celebrate a building, but to honor and be thankful for the partnership the College of ACES, John Wood Community College, and the Orr Corporation has had for many years – a unique partnership that has moved agriculture forward.”
The new center will help meet both local and international agricultural needs.
“The world faces significant food issues globally,” said U of I President Emeritus Bob Easter who attended the opening. Easter was directly involved and partnered with building namesake and prior Orr Corporation chairman, Fred L. Bradshaw many times over the evolution of the shared site. “The facilities and educational programs that are operated here are critical to us being able to feed the world going forward.”
Shelby Crow, Illinois Extension county director for the area served by the facility, was also at the opening. “This new facility will increase and enhance educational opportunities for agriculture and natural resource students and community members,” said Crow. “We look forward to many more years of this incredible partnership and the potential for Illinois Extension and 4-H programs that this new facility provides.”
The more than 400-acre site also features grassland and prairie plots, as well as a stocked fishpond, which will help provide students with in-the-field learning experiences.
“This is a tremendous collaborative project and a tremendous educational opportunity for the area,” says Amy Lefringhouse, new Illinois Extension natural resources, environment, and energy educator. Lefringhouse was hired in February to teach conservation management certificate courses on-site in the areas of resources, wildlife, and sustainable and renewable energy. “I look forward to working with college students and engaging with them about conservation management issues in Western Illinois.”
Shelly Nickols-Richardson, associate dean and director of Extension, Shibu Kar, assistant dean, natural resources, environment, and energy program leader, and Janice McCoy, Assistant Director for region 2, also attended the center’s opening.
The Orr Corporation continues to lead this privately funded project with $2.1 million of the $2.5 million target goal raised to date.
— University of Illinois Extension