Staff at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska are in orbit after getting word that major new funding is headed their way.
Thursday evening, Sen. Ted Stevens' office notified the center that his Senate Appropriations Committee approved $3 million to complete the second phase of its construction.
"We are very excited," Steve Horn, the center's executive director, said Monday.
The funding will boost the center to a higher capacity.
The funds will pay for an addition to double the size of the current building. The addition, about 9,000 square feet in size, will house classroom space, a digital production area, a workshop, office space for teachers and dormitory rooms for as many as 36 visiting students, plus their teachers.
Depending on how expeditiously Congress completes the budget process this fall, site work could begin as early as this winter. The goal is to have the new space ready for campers by the summer of 2003, he said.
The center's board of directors had incorporated this second phase into its planning from the beginning of the process, he said.
"We have the basic footprint and an artist's rendering. We do not have a full set of plans," he said.
The expansion will allow the center to increase its teaching staff and program offerings for students, to supplement its simulated space missions.
The center's "flight director," Daniela Martian, recently returned from extensive out-of-state training. Plans also are afoot to partner with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to develop distance-delivery math and science curriculum materials, Horn added.
"We have just lots of things available to us to do, that this facility will allow us to do," he said.
The Kenai center is part of a national network of Challenger Learning Centers promoting space science and related education. They were begun as a memorial to the astronauts killed in the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion in 1986.
The Alaska center's first phase cost $4.2 million and opened in April 2000 with the official dedication July 7, 2000. The physical building is named the Ted and Catherine Stevens Center for Science and Technology. Its core is a state-of-the-art space station simulator.
Horn and Kenai Mayor John Williams visited Washington, D.C., this spring and made a presentation about the center and its expansion plans to Stevens. The senator visited the center this summer and brought with him NASA Administrator Dan Goldin.
"I think they liked what they saw," Horn said.
During this past school year, about 5,500 students from 87 schools in 12 districts visited the center. The facility and its staff trained more than 200 teachers. Outreach programs in Anchorage sold out. This summer the facility is busy with workshops and summer camps for youngsters, he said.
"We are pleased with the turnout. ... (Summer) is going by fast," Horn said.
The appropriation for the Challenger Center addition is part of the federal fiscal year 2002 Veterans Administration and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill. The appropriation will not be official until the full Congress ratifies the bill, but Horn said he expects it to pass.
Other regional items included in the funding package include $500,000 for the Kenai River Center via the Environmental Protection Agency for continued research and river cleanup, according to a statement from the senator's office.
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