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ICTC under consideration for planned space center

by CHAUNCEY ROSS chauncey@indianagazette.net on July 26, 2013 11:00 AM

The Indiana County Technology Center has been named the first choice as the site for a Challenger Learning Center for science and technology education.

In an initiative spearheaded by the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school districts, a community-based committee has been tasked with studying the educational and financial feasibility of starting a Challenger program in Indiana County.

The panel has settled on building a Challenger center at the Technology Center campus in White Township, north of Indiana, and is floating the idea of incorporating it in a new wing to be constructed at ICTC to house an academy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, known as “STEM” education, said Vicki Smith, president of the Homer-Center School District board of directors.

The overall project could cost $7 million to $8 million.

“The technology center ... I think is the most appropriate site,” Smith said. “We will be speaking with them to come to some kind of an agreement … and a lot of our funding will be based on the value of the land and those kinds of things. So the real fundraising begins now.

“The goal is to build a new structure with a STEM academy attached to the ICTC. It’s very exciting and I’m very happy about it.”

The committee’s fundraising goal is $3 million, the amount needed to build the center and operate it for one year.

Smith said the committee would formally present the concept to the ICTC operating committee at a meeting Tuesday.

“The ICTC has always topped our list (of proposed sites),” said Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, the chairwoman of the committee. “It has such a beautiful campus, and the mission is so similar in so many ways to that of the Challenger center.”

The addition of a STEM academy would be decided later and based on what donations could sustain.

“It’s very possible that could be a wonderful extension of the Challenger mission and it is what many Challenger centers are considering,” Cuccaro said. “I believe there are some foundations that would be willing to contribute to the Challenger Center because of the possible extension into STEM education.”

Challenger Learning Centers have been sanctioned since 1986 through the Challenger Foundation, an organization established by families of the astronauts killed in the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, to promote and advance science education in the context of space exploration.

Most centers have been built to offer educational programs mainly to students in late elementary and middle school grades, but generally for students at all grade levels and for adults taking part in corporate training programs. They rely on attendance from wide regions to financially sustain their operations.

When the concept was introduced to local officials in 2012, the startup costs of a center were estimated at up to $1.5 million for a renovated building or $3 million for a new structure.

The local study group was directed to determine whether local contributions and fundraising could fully support a Challenger center before moving on with the development.

After deciding a center could be started and operated at no expense to the public, the group submitted its formal application to start a program in Indiana County.

The Challenger Foundation earlier this month approved the application for a center to serve a 22-county region of central and western Pennsylvania.

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