The Purdue University Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department is one of the most highly rated ag engineering departments for both graduate and undergraduate education in not only the country but also the world. And it’s accomplished those achievements despite working within a historic, antiquated facility built when tractors were just emerging and things like computers, smartphones and unmanned aerial vehicles were barely twinkles in someone’s eye.
A new facility is well deserved and will enable the department’s top-rated faculty to move forward uninhibited by limitations due to outdated facilities. The future isn’t here yet — the building is still under construction. But a year ago, the completely new part of the building was a deep hole in the ground. Today, it’s already an imposing structure rising on the landscape in the southern portion of Purdue’s College of Agriculture campus. Cranes to put steel beams in place are gone, and the primary structure is in place.
Well-placed insiders suggest the building project is on track to finish late in 2020, with the first classes likely to be held in the new facility in January 2021. It could follow a similar pattern as the new Department of Animal Sciences complex, which was completed and turned over to the faculty in the fall of 2017. The first classes were held in that new facility in January 2018.
The Purdue ag engineering building seemed old even by 1970s standards when I attended classes there as a student. As a dual major in ag education, I took an ag mechanics class from the legendary Arlen Brown and worked inside a shop that wouldn’t measure up to specs for most high school ag programs today. The lighting was poor; the big, open rooms were drafty; and the actual equipment we worked with was old, even then.
Sources say the original building was built at two different times, both in the early to mid-20th century. Despite being outdated inside, some felt it was important to preserve the architecture of the original structure.
Bill Field, Purdue Extension safety specialist, is one of those who pushed to preserve as much of the old structure as possible as the new facility was designed. He shared some time ago that he feels it’s important for students to have some sense of history, and what has gone before.
The front half of the building was refreshed on the outside but will still look much like it did before. Inside, however, expect everything to have a new, modern feel. Sources say even in the older structure that was preserved was gutted on the inside.
Those who know say the new facility will allow ag and biological engineering faculty and students to lead the charge on such things as the internet of things, handling huge amounts of data and weaving artificial intelligence into the world of agriculture.
This department has already demonstrated is has a bright, forward-thinking faculty. The new facility should enhance the ability to draw the best and brightest students. The future for this program would seem unlimited. No longer will it be held back by a facility built for a time that no longer exists.
It will arrive just in time for the digital revolution in agriculture. We can’t wait!
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