By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia
The former Arizona Challenger Space Center building will soon house Peoria Unified School District’s medical, engineering and technology program.
The district’s Governing Board last week discussed moving the Medical, Engineering, Technology Professional Academy, known as MET, from Peoria High School’s Old Main to the building it recently acquired, adjacent to Sunrise Mountain High School.
MET Academy, a program designed to prepare students for higher education in STEM-related fields, shares Old Main with Peoria Flex Academy, a non-traditional high school that offers flexible scheduling and tailored learning plans.
The district is expected to take ownership in of the former Space Center in October with the building anticipated to open for students by the 2018-19 school year.
Chief Instructional Officer Steve Savoy said the Peoria location is one of more than 40 space-learning centers opened to honor the 1986 Challenger mission, which included crew member and teacher from New Hampshire Christa McAuliffe. The shuttle exploded in flight, killing Ms. McAuliffe and six other astronauts on board.
“We believe we have a program that can continue the legacy of Christa McAuliffe,” Mr. Savoy said.
The move will benefit both the MET Academy and Peoria Flex Academy, Mr. Savoy said.
MET currently occupies the entire bottom floor of Old Main with every room utilized. Peoria Flex Academy has the other two floors, uses every room and cannot currently take the volume of additional students it could serve if space were available.
“We want MET to have the opportunity to occupy this space and flourish.” Mr. Savoy said. “Meanwhile, Peoria Flex Academy can stay and grow in Old Main. This will allow both programs to fly.”
The Governing Board earlier this month approved a deal to give away two parcels of land in return for the nearly 100,000-square-foot property, a cash settlement of $127,000 and a charitable donation of $125,000.
The swap with land owner Kevin Knight of Knight Transportation Group, followed on the heels of Challenger closing to the public Aug. 5, due to its inability to pay the mortgage.
A property assessment is expected to be completed by Jan. 1, which will show how much it will cost the district to do repairs and update the building. Subsequently, the process for converting the space to a learning center will begin.
During this time, MET and Peoria Flex operations will continue as usual, with no impact on current students, and the district will seek feedback and input from staff, Mr. Savoy said.
The MET program is made up of three teachers, and a new director is expected to be hired in September.
Governing Board member Monica Ceja Martinez said the move could be a selling point to attract and retain prospective teachers. But she cautioned transportation should be a priority as the MET program will be making a big geographical jump from south Peoria to the north.
“We need to make sure students in the south have access,” Ms. Ceja Martinez said.
Governing Board member Kathy Knecht said MET is a good fit for the facility.
“This could be a jewel in our crown,” she said. “It could be an incredible opportunity and a fresh start. And here we go. Let’s make it great.”
Challenger Space Center history
•Opened July 23, 2000
•The center honored the seven crew members of the Challenger Space Flight, including teacher Christa McAuliffe
•Artist Robert McCall provided the artwork depicting scenes of the future of man inhabiting space that will remain with the new program
•The facility provided students with simulation learning about space flight to Mars
•Peoria Unified students participated in nearly 20,000 missions
•After previously owning the facility, PUSD takes over ownership of the Challenger Center building
•Officials expect the updated facility to house the Medical, Engineering, Technology (MET) Professional Academy by the 2018-19 school year