DeSoto County’s new Agri-Education Center has gone out to bid.
By Beth Sullivan, Daily Memphian Updated: May 10, 2023 9:06 AM CT | Published: May 10, 2023 4:00 AM CT
The county is scheduled to open and publicly read the bids on May 25 for the nearly 200-acre project located off Star Landing Road just west of U.S. 51 in Southaven.
“We’ve been working on this for almost 12 years,” said Supervisor Lee Caldwell, who co-chairs the project’s committee. Once finished, the site — which Caldwell described as a “scaled-down version” of Memphis’ Shelby Farms — will be home to a multi-use community building, 46,700-square-foot livestock arena, stalls, walking and horse-riding trails, sports fields and RV parking.
“We want this to be top-notch because this is the heart of our county. It’s right in the center of the county, and we want this for everybody to use.
“We want to have the small county fair, and we want to have the Mid-South Fair there.”
The bid covers the community building, arena, warm-up arena, stall building, maintenance facility and an exterior restroom building. “Right now, this looks like it’s gonna be (an) almost $18 million facility,” said Caldwell, who estimates completion of the project’s first phase sometime in 2025.
“There is $19,444,380 in the total project for the building,” County Administrator Vanessa Lynchard said in an email, adding that the figure doesn’t include the walking trails. “The county has received several grants for trails and we have developed a plan for future growth as outside money comes available.”
The county is incurring costs for the trails, as well as moving and expanding utilities in the area. Caldwell said the utility work will be beneficial in the long term since the county hopes to someday build a new emergency operations center across Star Landing Road from the Agri-Education Center.
As its name suggests, the facility will offer agricultural education space and opportunities, including a classroom, gardens and a community kitchen for food classes.
County officials intend for the center to be the new home of the DeSoto County Extension Office currently located in Hernando. As part of the Mississippi State University Extension Office, the county extension office provides agriculture education and resources to the community through agriculture, natural resources and family consumer sciences programs, as well as its 4-H youth development program.
“DeSoto County used to have over 300 dairy farms, and our extension service was really large, and our 4-H (program) was very large,” Caldwell said, acknowledging the role of agriculture in DeSoto County’s history.
However, even as the number of farms has waned over the years, Caldwell hopes the center will help facilitate agricultural education through a larger classroom footprint, among other features.
Lara Angel, an extension agent with the DeSoto County office, is optimistic about the office’s future relocation. Angel, who has “slowly seen an increase throughout the years of people in our programs,” said the new facility will allow the organization more opportunities to expand its reach in the community.
“We have tried really hard to grow our 4-H program and offer as many things as we can,” said Angel, including showing livestock such as cattle, swine, dairy goats, horses and rabbits. The county’s most popular 4-H program is shooting sports, including firearms and archery, and both officials and county extension office members hope for an archery range at the center.
“We’re hoping to offer more sewing classes and just keep expanding things with our 4-H program through the new facility,” Angel added. “We’ve always added things each year, and so we’re trying to get sustainable by having volunteers that help us conduct those programs.”
Twenty acres of the site will also be devoted to a U.S. Army National Guard Armory, which will support approximately 350 soldiers from Southaven, Hernando and Holly Springs units. A separate project, the armory is planned to go out to bid at the end of this year, according to Caldwell.
In an effort to meet traffic demands, the county is in the process of widening Star Landing Road to four lanes between U.S. 51 and a railroad bridge to its west.