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Agriculture is a staple of the rural education curriculum, and while a majority of students are involved in those programs, there is often little funding and inadequate spaces to support them. The future farmers and agribusiness leaders are frequently taught in regular classrooms or modified shop rooms, without access to the tools and resources they need.

Okaw Valley CUSD #302 found an innovative answer by looking at a simple, yet effective source of inspiration: The Barn.

While agriculture education is nothing new, a dedicated facility with the ability to house livestock on a rural campus in the Midwest is a surprising anomaly. This Complex is the only one in Illinois — and one of a handful in the United States — to hold that distinction. It’s less surprising when considering the strong participation rates in the Okaw Valley district.

Due to the importance of this program, the planning of the facility and its location needed to be tightly knit into the other programs, such as athletics and general education. A key consideration was also the ability to expand program offerings in the future through enlarged facilities and the development of agriculturally inspired features, including on-site gardens, crops, or additional livestock support.

“The Agricultural Complex is so much more than a 50x100 building. It’s what’s inside and what goes on inside that makes the building.”

Kent Stauder, Okaw Valley CUSD #302 Superintendent



Flexible, Future-Focused

Small but nimble, the Agriculture Complex offers a flexible design that is intentionally minimal, budget-friendly, and ideal for 21st-century, hands-on learning. While primed for future expansion, the design offers ample lecture, lab, storage, and livestock housing space to accommodate a thriving agriculture program. Features such as an operable partition between the lecture and lab spaces, a clean, open lab that can be washed down, and mobile furniture offer another level of flexibility for the building to evolve with the program.


Located in the heart of the farmland, Okaw Valley’s Agriculture Complex offers a front door to agriculture education for students in a rural community. While small in footprint, the Complex offers a variety of resources and tools that help teach the importance of agriculture. Its design is simple, yet practical and flexible for the needs of the students and livestock.

The structure features two garage-style doors that allow easy access to large machinery and the movement of livestock. In the warm months, the doors can be opened to allow extra light and airflow in the lab.

The lean-to entry is a staple of most barn designs, offering a simple, budget-friendly, and effective solution for storage and protection from the elements. Opening to fields and a garden plot, the lean-to entry gives students opportunities to easily access farm implements for their crops or give livestock time to exercise or graze.


Thanks to the resources provided by the Agricultural Complex, students have the opportunity to be hands-on with the animals on a daily basis. Prior to the structure being built on the high school campus, students would only get a few encounters with livestock each semester, through field trips to local farms or area colleges. The new facility has changed its curriculum and enhanced learning experiences.

‘‘The general idea was to establish a university farm on a small scale, and the Complex elevates our ability to teach students agriculture and agronomy in an all-inclusive environment.

Wes Wise, Okaw Valley Agriculture Teacher


The seemingly simple classroom offers flexibility for 21st-century learning and specialized applications in agriculture education. Easily mobile tables and seating allow for various configurations in the open space, while the back partition can be opened to expand the lab area. The classroom is also host to various community events.

Okaw Valley Ag Teacher Wes Wise says, ‘‘Even though we try to start the day in our classroom, most of the students head straight to the ward to check on the animals. They truly care for the animals, and that’s the way it should be.’’

A simple, yet practical design, the lab includes several important features: high ceilings to promote airflow and allow large machinery to move effortlessly; textured concrete to allow hoofed animals to walk easily; in-floor sewage grates for animal care and cleanup; and ample storage. The lab also has a hayloft-style supply area above the restrooms for efficient use of space.

‘‘Our job is to find alternative ways to motivate kids. This building and program helps us to do just that.’’

Wes Wise, Okaw Valley Agriculture Teacher

A Whole New Animal

With the resources available in the Agricultural Complex, students can take a new hands-on approach to learning animal care. The livestock chute in the lab allows animals to be held for vaccinations, tagging, health inspections, and general hygiene and care.

Wise says, ‘‘I have been able to expand what and how I teach because of this structure. I have the resources I need right here, so I can teach more efficiently and more effectively.’’


‘‘This building introduces us to a side of agriculture that we’ve never seen before and gives us access to more than we ever had in a regular classroom. I grew up on a farm, but until I started taking classes in this building, I didn't understand how much was involved in livestock care. I’ve now given vaccinations, tagged cattle, and helped treat illnesses. Now I want to study agribusiness when I graduate.’’

Okaw Valley Student

Home to the district’s livestock, including a rotation of cattle, swine, sheep, and the occasional pony, the animal ward offers a flexible design that allows students easy access to the lab and outdoor areas. The design features a built-in watering system, unfinished floors, high ceilings, and sliding barn doors.

The only downfall? No matter what, it always smells like pigs. However, even though ag students start their day in the Agriculture Complex, they don't have to spend the rest of the day smelling like a barnyard. Showers were an integral part of the design, so the hard-working students could balance life on the farm with life at school.

‘‘What I like best about this new building is it gives us opportunities to try new things and figure out what we like doing best. Everyone does their part to make it work. And we can get dirty, and that's okay.’’

Okaw Valley Student

Field Experience


Okaw Valley students get real-world field experience, quite literally in the field. In conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, the district farms the land adjacent to its campus.

The grain harvested from these plots is used to feed the on-site livestock, which in turn is harvested for meat and sold to support the program. Ultimately, the goal is to create a self-sustainable program that can allow for future growth, despite the limitations of a small-district budget.


Future-Focused Ag Ed Programs

Are you ready to take your district’s ag program to the next level? Upgrading your ag facilities doesn't have to be a big process — let BLDD take the reigns with Design On Demand. Using the Okaw Valley Agriculture Complex model, your district can save time, money, and headaches while still customizing the space to fit your students’ needs. Are you ready to cultivate your future? Contact our K12 Design Specialists.

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