INDIANA AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT: Board authorizes payment for center
February 26, 2013 3:00 PM

The countdown continues toward the Challenger mission in Indiana County.

The Indiana Area School District board of directors on Monday authorized on a divided vote a cash payment toward the application fee to start a Challenger Learning Center in the area — a contribution of $2,779, or one dollar per student enrolled in the district.

That, along with other donations already in hand, would cover the $5,000 fee for application to the Challenger Center foundation to start a science education and training center in the region.

The foundation was started in 1986 by survivors of the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, and its goal is to continue that flight’s educational mission by setting up model space stations and control centers, where science and technology lessons are taught in the context of mock space missions.

Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, of Indiana, the chairwoman of an ad hoc committee guiding the Challenger Center process, told the board that the panel is narrowing down a list of potential sites for the center — Indiana County Technology Center is among the favorites — and compiling a list of potential financial supporters for the project.

Cuccaro said the Indiana County Development Corporation, the Indiana County Manufacturers Consortium, National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, Wyoming Technical Institute and a Marcellus shale gas production trade group have shown support for the project.

Earlier this month, the Homer-Center school board — Indiana’s partner in the application process — authorized its administration to continue in the application process, including a dollar-per-student contribution amounting to about $900.

Although the Indiana Area and Homer-Center districts are the flagships in the process, the center is recommended to be supported and organized by a cross-section of community interests.

Cuccaro and board member Walter Schroth said several other school districts in the county also are considering similar per-capita donations. No school boards have voted against participating, Schroth said.

The committee is drafting a business plan as part of the application process, which Cuccaro said would take several months to complete.

The district’s donation was approved on a vote of 8 to 1, with director Diana Paccapaniccia opposed.

“This is where I’m going to start voting against the Challenger Center,” Paccapaniccia said. “I cannot tell you how many parents have told me they are very concerned about this project, specifically because we have rooms at our high school, biology rooms and chemistry rooms, that are inadequate for teaching.

“I don’t see the commitment from our public school districts right now and until I do, and until I get more support from my constituents, I just have to say that I am going to start disagreeing with supporting this project,” she said.

Schroth, Alison Billon, Hilliary Creely, David Ferguson, Robert Gongaware, Thomas Harley, Brian Petersen, and Robert Werner voted for the contribution.

The board on a voice vote also authorized the administration to accept donations designated for the Challenger Learning Center.

The funds would be deposited with the district’s general account and be protected from other uses.

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