Two years ago, officials at the Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute developed a master plan to bring the campus in Wooster into the 21st century. That plan includes replacing aging, outdated and damaged buildings, including classrooms and dormitories, as well as developing new outdoor learning opportunities. Developing a costly master plan and implementing one are two entirely different things.
Located 100 miles from Ohio State's main campus in Columbus, OSU-ATI has a long history of training students for careers in turf and agriculture. Officials insist that much of the infrastructure at the Wooster campus is outdated and in disrepair and must be renovated or even replaced. Finding funds to make those necessary has been a challenge.
To help fund implementation of its master plan over the next decade, ATI is liquidating some of its real estate holdings that officials say no longer suit the school's needs, including its golf course.
Hawk's Nest closed in December and was sold earlier this year for $2.5 million to Gasser Brothers LLC, which owns agricultural operations in eastern Ohio.
A 1993 Steve Burns design, Hawks Nest was gifted to ATI 15 years ago by its previous owners, Earl and Betty Hawkins. Since then, the public course was utilized by ATI students as an outdoor classroom and lab.
"It's 20 minutes away from campus, and there are only 15 minutes between classes," said Ed Nangle, Ph.D., who runs ATI's turf program. "We had to end classes early and students were always late to their next class if they went back to campus. Classes never started on time. There were so many logistical issues."
More real-world learning opportunities will be added on campus as part of the renovation project.
In the plans are a new athletic field where, Nangle said, "We're going to try to stretch the cold tolerance of Bermudagrass farther north."
The athletic field also will be used for student recreation.
About 22 acres have been set aside as the future site for a three- or four-hole short course as part of the new-look ATI. Students will be tasked with managing both surfaces as well as maintenance equipment for real on-the-job training.
"Since it's only a three- or four-hole course, students will learn how to screw up, but it won't be critical like it would be on an 18-hole course," Nangle said. "What they'll be able to learn is 'I better not do that again.' Making mistakes is a critical part of learning."
The future of the golf course is uncertain, and ATI officials said they will establish turf plots on the Wooster campus that boasts a research putting green built by John Street, Ph.D., 50 years ago.
A new research green will feature 10 different cultivars that students can maintain while observing the unique characteristics of each variety.
"Students will be able to see differences in establishment and management," Nangle said. "It's a win-win."
Other updates are occurring indoors.
The Equipment Manager program has been popular at ATI, and more offerings there will hopefully attract even more students, Nangle said.
"Most of our turf students get the equipment manager certificate while they are here, but not a lot come here just for that," Nangle said. "That part of the business is going bananas now."
ATI plans to add an eight-week EM summer program and expand equipment available to students. ATI has historically been a Bernhard shop, but Nangle recently added a SIP grinder and is working to bring in a Foley unit, as well.
"This way, they'll get to learn all types of grinding on all kinds of equipment," he said.
The athletic field should be completed in a year and all aspects of the improvement project are expected to be completed in two years.
ATI's Grosjean East farm recently sold for $750,000 to another buyer, and a host of other properties are being liquidated for about $300,000.