New ag and animal barn for the Athena-Weston School District

The new ag and animal barn for the Athena-Weston School District, on Pambrun Road, is part of a vision to build programs to benefit the entire community.

ATHENA — Wednesday’s ribbon cutting for Athena-Weston School District’s new agriculture barn will tell a story deeper than shiny metal and big scissors.

The building, completed in December, is one facet of an ongoing revitalization of the district’s ag program, said Ashley Florence.

Florence joined Weston-McEwen High School as the agriculture teacher and FFA adviser in 2014. As part of a district in a rural farming community, she wanted to build a program that would serve the entire community, including a robust FFA chapter and local 4-H clubs.

“Part of that was building a barn that functioned for raising all kinds of livestock,” she said.

About 80 students fill Weston-McEwen’s ag classes every quarter, and 50 or so participate in FFA, Florence said.

For decades, the school district depended on two, vintage Quonset huts to act as the high school’s agricultural learning environment. The corrugated, galvanized steel structures were post-labor camp barracks brought in after World War II for temporary farmworker quarters, Florence said.

The arched huts, which were never intended to house livestock, leaked in rainstorms and flooded annually, she said.

A grant came to the rescue. It was awarded by the Athena-Weston Education and Resource Enhancement program, which gets its funding through an Oregon state requirement that a small portion of wind energy profits made in the state be allocated to education.

“We got the grant for $50,000, and we used every single penny of it,” Florence said.

The new barn sits on a concrete pad. Noble steel panels, built in Milton-Freewater and sold nationwide, provide sturdy fencing, while a 10-foot overhang allows outside activity protection. Plans call for adding more fencing and pouring more concrete as money is available, Florence said, noting students finally have a weatherproof place to store equipment and practice animal care and showmanship skills.

The structure and Wednesday evening’s ceremony are testimony to Athena’s and Weston’s continuing efforts to grow farmers and others who care for animals and the land, Florence said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.