Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

March 2, 2014

Shooting for the moon

Challenger Center receives simulators, sees cut in expenses

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It’s been quite a journey to get to this point and there is still a way to go. But, there is progress being made with the Challenger Learning Center of Orleans, Niagara and Erie counties, as the Washburn Street facility received both of its simulators last week.

Challenger Learning Centers are privately run, not-for-profit entities that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education of kindergarten-through-12th-grade students, particularly middle school students, by running simulated space missions.

Working with school districts in the CLC’s licensed area, center staff train teachers to prepare their classes to carry out a “mission” at the center using a life-sized space station and mission simulators. Four major storage units came by Thursday to drop off the equipment for the simulators, which installation of may take up to a month.

Kathy Michaels, Challenger Learning Center of ONE executive director, said support has come from practically everywhere. The city and Harrison Place have been great, she said. Volunteers have chipped in considerably. Service Solutions is the contractor and Carpet Collection supplied the carpets. 

But what’s really been helpful is the center’s expenses have come down from the $900,000 that was estimated in the fall. Some of that assistance came from out of town.

A big cut in the Challenger Center’s expense came when the Lockport center accepted some equipment from a now-closed Challenger Center from Birmingham, Ala. The move saved $500,000.

“We didn’t need a sprinkler system, because nothing here will burn. All of the walls are concrete, the ceiling is concrete and the floors are concrete,” Michaels said. “We saved $50,000 by just not doing the sprinkler system.”

The total cost is down to about $600,000.

“We need a little bit more help,” Michaels said.

Michaels said the floors were jackhammered and a special handicap accessible ramp is being put in. Extensive electrical and construction work is ongoing, while the set up of the simulators will be done by spring.

Part of the center will look like Mission Control as it is portrayed often in movies. Another section will be a space station, which will be set up over the next couple of months. All of the pieces of the space station have been received. A temporary certificate of occupancy should be received soon.

The center is fundraising, but it has made progress on the revenue side as well.

In October, the Challenger Center received a $13,000 grant from the Grigg-Lewis Foundation for the removal of interior walls and flooring in the lower level of the former Building 1 at Harrison Place. Also, the City of Lockport received a $130,000 grant to assist with the moving in of the center.

In January, the Challenger Center received a $10,000 grant from the M&T Bank Charitable Foundation, which was then matched by a donation from a private individual.

With a strong emphasis on STEM teaching, the Challenger Center program has a major focus on education. As a result, the center works closely with schools, something that’ll happen with the Lockport facility as well. The center has already hosted high school robotics teams from Lockport and Newfane, as well as a junior Lego team. The Boy and Girl Scouts will also be involved with the Challenger Center.

The support from the local community, especially from the city and local educators, has been tremendous, said Martin Schwartz, director of community relations for the national Challenger Center organization.

“It’s going extremely well,” he said. “This is about the normal timeframe for a center... we are very pleased.”

Schwartz, who has seen a number of centers open across the country, said the Lockport-based center can expect to see 5,000 to 6,000 students a year from as far as two hours away from the city. Participating teachers are given classroom materials before and after a visit to the Challenger Center.

But, Lockport’s center will differ a little as it will also attempt to draw tourists.Schwartz said the Challenger Center is looking at shortening some of the missions, possibly down to 45 to 50 minutes. That would allow for tourists to stop by, but not have to spend all day at the center for missions that last much longer.

The Challenger Center will also cater to families and community groups. Camps will be run and the planetarium will see a lot of use during the summer.

CHALLENGER CENTER OF ORLEANS, NIAGARA AND ERIE COUNTIES • LOCATION: 160 Washburn St. • CONTACT: By phone, 208 2404, on Facebook or online at CLCLockport.org

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.