TTU's Ag Pavilion celebrates its 10th anniversary

Tennessee Tech University’s Hyder-Burks Agricultural Pavilion celebrates an important milestone this month — its 10th anniversary.

Named for the late State Sen. Tommy Burks and former TTU animal science professor Clyde Hyder, the pavilion opened August 1995. The 124,000-square-foot facility, located northwest of Cookeville on the university’s Shipley Farm, consists of a main arena and the smaller Harrison sales arena, with a multipurpose room that can be divided into meeting rooms and classrooms and a stall barn for tying animals.

Burks, a 1958 TTU agriculture graduate, was instrumental in helping the university gain state funding for the construction of the $5 million facility. Hyder was a longtime animal science professor who had an impact on hundreds of TTU agriculture graduates — including Burks and retiring dean Donald Elkins — and who provided a substantial contribution for agriculture scholarships.

The pavilion, dubbed by former Gov. Ned McWherter as a “performing arts center for the people of the Upper Cumberland,” was meant to be used for both academic and community activities — and it has more than lived up to both purposes, agriculture faculty members say.

“You name it – every kind of activity you can imagine — and it’s been held out there,” said professor Ben Byler, who was director of the School of Agriculture when the pavilion was first opened.

The largest single event held at Hyder-Burks was the 1998 funeral of Sen. Burks. Within two days, more than 5,000 people attended his visitation and funeral service.

State Sen. Charlotte Burks has helped carry on in the tradition of her late husband as one of several state legislators who recently helped TTU gain $15 million in state funding for a new and badly needed School of Nursing building.

Current School of Agriculture Director Wade Faw said, “The pavilion is open for public rental on the weekends, but Monday through Thursday, it’s primarily used for academic purposes.

“For example, a facility like this makes it much easier for our professors to conduct lab sessions in inclement weather,” Faw continued. “It’s not convenient to take a class out in a thunderstorm to look at a cow, and you can’t very well bring a cow into a standard classroom, but this facility provides a proper arena for evaluating animals.”

In addition to labs and academic activities, other functions that are or have been held at Hyder-Burks include livestock shows and sales, rodeos and other competitive events, the State Agriscience Quiz Bowl, FFA training events, Ag in the Classroom teacher training sessions, annual shows and exhibits such as Santa’s Workshop and the Home Show, banquets and meetings, high school graduations, wedding ceremonies and receptions, and even U.S. bankruptcy court.

Students are often involved in the public agricultural events held at the pavilion too, either selling concessions at its three food booths or living in a limited number of apartments on-site and helping to serve as caretakers, looking after the facilities and locking up at night.

“Our student worker residents are a tremendous asset for the pavilion,” Elkins said. “We couldn’t do as much as we do without them, and having reliable students to serve in this capacity cuts down on the necessity for other farm workers to perform these tasks.”

Such features provide an obvious advantage for student outreach, Elkins continued — but the facility also has a positive impact on the region by contributing to the Upper Cumberland economy.

“Any event — especially the two-day events — booked at Hyder-Burks has the potential to bring new people into this area, and that means more money being spent at our hotels, restaurants and shopping centers,” he said.

According to a 1995 study by former agribusiness management professor David B. Narrie, in fact, activities in the sales arena — which opened prior to the completion of the main arena — contributed about $420,000 to the Cookeville economy, increased total household income by $122,000 and created nine new jobs during its first year of operation.

Narrie’s analysis did not include the value of livestock sales at each event or the value of arena rentals.

A similar study conducted in 1997 by a group of TTU business communication students found that events held at the pavilion contributed more than $1.5 million to the Cookeville economy, increased total household income by $520,000 and created 37 more jobs in the community.

“I have no doubt that the Hyder-Burks Pavilion changed the School of Agriculture because it made greater student and community outreach possible,” Byler said. “It will be interesting to see how it boosts TTU’s agriculture program and the Upper Cumberland region’s economy over the next 10 years.”