Olds College expands two education facilities

Alberta COVID recovery funding will help increase enrolment in the school’s animal science and ag technology programs

Shovels are already in the ground at Olds College now that the provincial government has provided $21.37 million in funds to renovate and expand facilities for animal science and agricultural technology studies.

The college’s Lachlin McKinnon Building will be expanded into the new Animal Health Education Centre, which will require $15.16 million. Another $6.21 will be used to redevelop the James Murray building into the Ag-Tech Learning Hub.

The province announced the funds in connection with its larger “recovery plan” that is allocating money to various infrastructure projects as a way to spur economic growth and job creation.

Government has targeted “shovel-ready” projects, so the Olds College plans, which have been on the drawing board for some time, fit the requirement.

“They’re both shovel ready. They’re facility renovations and expansions. So they’ll take two existing facilities on campus and really transform them into first rate learning centres in agriculture technology and animal health education and they’re ready to go,” said Olds College president Stuart Cullum.

“So I think we ticked-off a lot of the boxes for the province not only in terms of being shovel-ready and facilitating jobs in the short term but also really addressing critical skills and labour needs, training needs for the province in two key areas that are going to support our agriculture sector in the years and decades to come.”

Once completed, the facility expansion will allow a 67 percent increase in students within animal health courses, raising numbers to 300 full-time students from the current 180. Development of the agricultural technology centre will allow programming for more than 200 students, said Cullum.

Olds is now at capacity in terms of enrolment in animal sciences, he added, and demand is greater than the college’s ability to accommodate them with existing facilities.

“We really can’t do anything more within that facility to increase enrolment, so we need to expand those facilities in order to facilitate enrolment growth and demand. The animal health area in this province, it’s critically important that we produce the labour needed and the highly skilled labour that’s required.”

On the agriculture technology side, the college has launched its Werklund School of Agriculture Technology learning hub and will offer its first two ag tech courses under that banner this fall.

“There really isn’t an ag tech programming stream that is in place in Western Canada,” Cullum said.

“Our research is indicating that we need to start developing programming to support the relationship between technology and agriculture.”

The building projects are expected to create about 120 jobs, with the learning hub projected for completion in fall 2022 and the animal health component by fall 2023.

Olds College began its life as a demonstration farm in 1911, and in 1913 became the Olds School of Agriculture and Home Economics. Since then it has graduated thousands of students in various disciplines of agriculture, horticulture, land and environmental management, animal science, food production, business, fashion and trades.

The college has also developed a Smart Farm, a 2,000-acre site that allows applied research programming as well as student learning.

Restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic will see a combination this fall of in-class and virtual delivery of class material at the college, said Cullum, with hopes of phasing in the more usual full classroom experience by 2021.

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