From outer space to STEM in Peoria: MET Academy preps facility for new home, name

Peoria Unified INT Supervisor Ed Martin, center, speaks with the administration about plans for the MET Professional Academy’s new home at the former Arizona Challenger Space Center, Feb. 1. The MET Professional Academy is expected to hold a grand opening July 1. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]

By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia

A transformation is underway at a Peoria landmark.

Peoria Unified School District’s Medical, Engineering, Technology Professional Academy, known as MET, is scheduled to move into the former Arizona Challenger Space Center July 1.

This includes facility upgrades and a name change for the building, which has yet to be determined.

The academy is headed from Peoria High School’s Old Main in the south to the facility in the north, which is adjacent to Sunrise Mountain High School, 21170 N. 83rd Ave.

John Croteau, executive director of secondary education, said the facility is remodeling for students in the coming school year.

“That is pretty aggressive in our plans, but we are on track and everybody is working extremely hard to make that happen,” he said.

The district acquired the property in a land deal with the former owner, Kevin Knight of Knight Transportation Group, in October after the Challenger Space Center closed Aug. 5 due to its inability to pay their mortgage. The center has since moved to a space in the Metrocenter mall, 9617 N. Metro Parkway W.

Over the last few months, the district has been updating the facility to meet code.

Mr. Croteau said that before acquiring the property, the district assessed their needs and checked for code standards.

Improvements could cost more than $450,000, which will come from about $200,000 acquired during the land swap, $125,000 in bond funds and about $100,000 in additional district assistance.

The biggest costs are HVAC, fire alarm and cabling, which could cost around $100,000 as all the cables were cut before the district started moving into the building, officials said.

Right now wiring needs to be installed, as well as routers, access points and other technology components. The MET utilizes computers and machines that require a fast and reliable network, and currently there is no computer network capability in the building.

“The MET uses a lot of technology in their program and that needs to be brought up to speed so kids can have access to technology,” Mr. Croteau said.

Officials are in the process of changing the occupancy classification of the building to educational, from museum, its previous use. The occupancy classification is the basis for determining a variety of code items, including exiting requirements. Under the facility’s new occupancy classification, the fire alarm system will need to be upgraded to an emergency voice/alarm communication system, said Fire Prevention Inspector Supervisor Michael Brune.

The change will provide an emergency voice evacuation system, he said.

“From the cursory walk through that was performed, the existing basic fire alarm system can remain with the addition of speakers with voice control instead of horns throughout the building,” he said. “Other changes to the systems could occur based on changes to walls and ceilings as these can affect the fire sprinkler and fire alarm coverage. These types of changes cannot be determined until final floor plans have been developed.”

The school board had concerns  about students in the south getting to the new location in the north.

PUSD spokeswoman Danielle Airey said the board wants to ensure equitable access to the program.

“So we are working on building in transportation right now, making sure that all students can participate in this program, regardless of their home school.”

Governing Board member Kathy Knecht proposed a unique solution to improve the facility.

“I want to throw out a wild and crazy idea. I think we should look at HGTV and do a ‘flip this museum’ show. Because finding outside sources to participate in the evolution of this project, I think is a very attractive proposition,” Ms. Knecht said. “I did some research online but I didn’t find the right person, but I know we have a grant writer or someone else who might be able to make the right phone call.”



Aug. 10, 2017: Land approved for acquisition by governing board
Aug. 24, 2017: Discussion to move MET program to facility
Sept. 28, 2017: Barbara Coakley hired as MET Director
Oct. 30, 2017: Acquired property in land swap
Oct. 30, 2017 : Identification of facility to district standards
Jan. 3: Governing board tour
Source: PUSD

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