Indiana, PA - Indiana County

ICTC agrees to host Challenger center

by CHAUNCEY ROSS chauncey@indianagazette.net on August 01, 2013 10:50 AM

Officials of the Indiana County Technology Center and a community-based panel promoting science and space education have agreed on basing a Challenger Learning Center at the tech center campus north of Indiana in White Township.

The ICTC joint operating committee, composed of representatives of six school districts that share ownership of the school, voted Tuesday to serve as the host site for the center.

According to a news release issued by ICTC and the Challenger committee, the tech center will more formally develop the terms for starting the Challenger program, including a location on ICTC property and whether any existing ICTC buildings or staff would be part of the Challenger development.

The proposal calls for ICTC to grant a 50-year lease for token rent of $1 a year for 10 acres of the school grounds to be the home of what would be called the Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center, according to B. Edward Smith, president of the Blairsville-Saltsburg School District board of directors.

Smith reported that detail at a school board meeting Wednesday evening.

This is more than one small step toward getting the program off the ground, according to officials of the local Challenger program.

“We at Challenger are very excited about the resolution for many reasons, not the least of which is that ICTC’s tremendous success in educating Indiana County students in the technical fields will resonate strongly with potential corporate and foundation donors,” program leaders wrote in a news release. “Challenger’s goal is to continue that legacy.”

The space education program has been under study since July 2012, and has picked up momentum over the past month.

The Challenger Foundation, set up with the goal of promoting space and science education following the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle 27 years ago, has authorized about 50 learning centers around the world and in July granted an application by Indiana Area School District and Homer-Center School District to establish one in Indiana County.

An ad hoc committee directed by Indiana attorney Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro first studied the academic and financial viability of starting such a center before recommending moving ahead with the project. Construction of a new building and outfitting it with classrooms modeled after NASA’s Mission Control center in Houston and the labs used by astronauts on the International Space Station, along with budgeted operating costs for the first year, are estimated at $3 million.

The committee and others from the Indiana and Homer-Center districts have said the center would be funded by private-sector contributions and user fees rather than public tax dollars.

The resolution by the ICTC operating committee “is an exciting opportunity for both organizations to offer enhanced STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs for the communities in our region, particularly Indiana County,” said Vicki Smith, chairwoman of the ICTC committee and president of the Homer-Center school board.

“This is a huge step forward in establishing a regional Challenger Learning Center here in Indiana County,” said Walter Schroth, a representative of the Indiana Area School District board of directors. “To have accomplished this today tells me that there is a high demand to increase STEM opportunities in this region. This is really good news for our entire community.”

The Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center has been designated to serve 22 counties in central and western Pennsylvania as a destination for all-day science class field trips and corporate training programs.

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