MCC board of trustees votes to keep Highlander Ranch on campus

Published: Jul. 11, 2023 at 10:18 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 12, 2023 at 9:27 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The equestrian community has a lot to celebrate because McLennan Community College’s Board of Trustees voted 5-2 so that Highlander Ranch can stay on campus.

The board approved to retain the Ranch and include an instructional plan with additional investments.

The ranch has been a part of the MCC campus for more than 20 years where students get the opportunity for hands-on learning in a variety of courses, and the community participates in horse riding lessons.

However, some board members said the Ranch’s fate has been up for discussion for over four years due to maintenance costs being extremely high.

On the other hand, other board members said they heard folks’ emotional connection to the Ranch during the public hearing, which makes them want to explore other options.

Lisa Lacey said she attended MCC in the 70′s and has deep ties to Highlander Ranch.

Lacey requested for the board to table the motion so community members can have time to gather an advisory committee.

“It can be with people who actually know horses and understand horses. I know horses are complicated. Agriculture is complicated. It’s hard to have a board for a community college and understand what goes into a place like Highlander Ranch. I also want to say that the American Veterinary Medical Association has been saying for about 10-15 years that they are running out of large animal vets. This is a golden opportunity to save this beautiful piece of property,” said Lacey.

The new plan includes three phases over the course of the next few years.

Phase one:

Form a ranch committee.

Re-introduce popular sustainable agriculture courser to Ranch through continuing education.

Increase Ranch usage by existing academic/workforce programs.

Increase marketing of Vet Tech, Vet Assistant, Agriculture, etc.

Review expenses and contracts in Vet Tech Program for savings.

Apply for USDA NIFA Workforce Training Grant

Increase Ranch staffing.

Expand horse riding lessons to meet community demand.

Expand boarding compacity with 10 new stalls and an additional pasture.

Estimated initial outlay of $110,794

Phase two:

Begin transition of sustainable agriculture from noncredit training to credit training.

Add continuing education training to equine management and natural resource management.

Move Vet Tech to a hybrid/online model.

Open a pet wellness clinic for faculty, staff and students.

Expand boarding capacity with five new stalls.

Estimated initial outlay of $6,127

Phase three:

Continue to expand educational credential offerings in natural resource management and equine management.

Work with local agricultural and food science businesses to meet workforce training needs.

Partner with universities to use Ranch as a teaching site for upper-level courses.

Continue to seek grants to support new programs.

Develop an equine cross-country course, dressage arena and concession area to host more shows and clinics.

Estimated initial outlay of $15,500

One instructor, Kate Lennon, said she moved from Colorado to Waco specially to teach at the ranch.

She said she’s happy to know there will be major improvements to the ranch that will impact people’s lives in a positive way.

“To know that we’ve at least gotten the opportunity to get some space to make some changes, implement some new things and maybe turn it around feels like a huge relief.”

Lennon said the Ranch is important because it helps keep children outside and off their phones, as well as teach lifelong skills that one wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere.

“It’s going to be amazing. Like it’s going to be awesome because now, they’re actually going to get behind it. They’re going to do something, they’re going to fix stuff up. They’re going to support us, they’re going to help us market. It’s a relief.”

The three-phase project for renovations would start from this year until 2027.