Fayette County Public Schools officials are finalizing plans for a non-profit veterinary clinic — where high school students could get hands-on experience working in veterinary science — that will be located at the school district's new Locust Trace Agriscience Farm.
In addition to training students, a non-profit clinic also would offer veterinary services for farms and residents around Leestown Road, where Locust Trace will be located.
The agriscience farm is under development now on 82 acres of former federal government land off Leestown, a few miles northwest of downtown Lexington. School officials say Locust Trace will be a working farm, with pastures, orchards, gardens, vineyards and an arena for livestock shows.
The farm and the clinic will open in fall 2011, and the $18 million facility will offer students firsthand experience in a host of agricultural fields: equine science, aquaculture, environmental science, biotechnology, animal husbandry and other related subjects, including veterinary science. Classroom instruction in English, math and other academic subjects will be included.
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"We want to bring the students, not just something that you'd find in a classroom somewhere, but something that you would normally only find in a university setting," said James Martin, a Madison County-based veterinarian who will help run the Locust Trace clinic. "I think it's going to be one of the most exciting things to come along in education in a long time."
Martin said his firm, Advanced Animal Care, will provide staffing, equipment and other needs for the clinic, which will offer students experience in large- and small-animal, and feed-animal veterinary practice.
The Locust Trace Agriscience Farm Veterinary Clinic will be a key component of the farm, said James Hardin, the Fayette County Schools' coordinator of career and technical education.
Students will be able to watch surgeries at the clinic, assist staff veterinarians in treating animals, participate in laboratory work and see what it's like working in a veterinary clinic, Hardin said.
"Dr. Martin's vision is to put the best of the best in this clinic because he knows that a lot of people are going to come to Locust Trace to see what we're doing," Hardin said. According to Hardin, several Kentucky colleges with veterinary science programs have expressed an interest in helping get Locust Trace up and running.
For example, Dr. Phillip Prater, who directs the pre-veterinary and vet-tech programs at Morehead State University, said he's held informal talks about the possibility of having MSU faculty members spend time helping students at Locust Trace.
"We require that students going into our program, either associate or baccalaureate, have at least 120 hours of hands-on practical experience," Prater said. "What Dr. Martin and those guys are going to offer in Fayette County will probably far surpass that."
Martin, who has taught at Eastern Kentucky University and Berea College, said the plan is to have three, and possibly four, veterinarians working at the clinic with support staff. Martin will work at the clinic as much as his schedule allows.
"Our goal is to get as many kids interested in veterinary school or agriculture science as we can," Martin said. "We're trying to create courses that would possibly develop into college credits and prepare kids for something beyond a high school degree.
"If you're a vet tech, for example, you're going to be making twice as much as the average person who graduates from high school."
Fayette officials have been talking about having such a facility for years, said Joe Norman, principal of the school district's Eastside Technical Center, where agriculture classes are now based.
"We always thought it would be a good thing for our students, and we didn't have anything like that at the high school level," Norman said.
The plan really got moving last year, after the federal government agreed to give the county school system 82 acres of free land northwest of the Federal Medical Center on Leestown Road. With a site in hand, plans for an agriscience center began to take shape.
The plan is for Locust Trace to open as a half-day training program for 250 to 300 agriscience students in 2011. But educators hope it one day could grow into an all-day technical high school serving 450 to 500 students.