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Saturday, November 24, 2012

From the Daily Herald. Possibilities for the Space Center's Future

Hello Troops,
This article appeared in today's edition of the Provo Daily Herald.  It covers several items discussed in our last Space Center Committee meeting and comments made to the reporter during the last board meeting.  My comments are added in blue.  This article was written by Caleb Warnock, a reporter for the Daily Herald.   Mr. W.

 PLEASANT GROVE -- Alpine School District's condemned space center might find a second life as a magnet school.
I'm glad to see my suggestion has some support.  Magnet schools are fairly common in school districts nationwide.  I see a Space Center magnet school focusing on blending math, science and technology with the humanities.  For ten years the heading of our blog has said "The Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center; A Utah Arts, Sciences, Math, Technology Initiative".  This school would be open to students district wide.  Can you imagine the public's interest in such a school?  Imagine going to a school anchored by futuristic starship simulators.   The demand to get into such a school would be overwhelming.
The Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center was closed a month ago over safety concerns. In a recent board meeting, district officials and board members said they are mulling this opportunity to create something much larger out of the space center program.

"Maybe the space center is more than what it currently does," assistant superintendent Rob Smith said. "Maybe there could be a zero gravity room. Maybe a 100-seat theater."
We can't switch off gravity.  I believe he may have meant a display that simulates alternate gravities.  Clark Planetarium once had a device which simulated the moon's gravity.  The moon's gravity is 1/6  that of Earths.  You were strapped in this device which counter balanced away 5/6th of your weight. Such a device would be an excellent addition to the new Center.   
A robotics and math program, sponsored by IM Flash Technologies, could be part of the new plan, he said. There is a great new for space for students to focus on match competitions, robotics and technology classes.
"It would take it from a fourth- to sixth-grade program to a secondary program, a magnet for the whole district," board member JoDee Sundberg said.
The elementary grade program would not be eliminated.  It is intended the new Center would continue to use simulators.  These other programs would be offered for junior and senior high school students.  The Space Center would be a field trip site for most grades. 
"I think it has some great possibilities," Smith said.

Property was purchased four or five years ago to build a new space center, but the public, in hearings before the last bond, told board members they did not want the district spending money on a space center redo.

"It was the intent of the board to have it on the bond, and it was not received by the public," Sundberg said. "I think that has to be remembered. It was always the intent of the board to do something about it."
We didn't have an organized effort to advocate for the Space Center on the bond.  I asked our supporters not to rally for the Space Center believing there was enough money in the bond to meet all the District's needs, including a new Space Center.  I wasn't concerned after the Space Center was taken off the bond.  The District put out a statement saying a new Space Center would be built with capital money towards the latter part of this decade.    
Since the center was closed, however, public sentiment has shifted toward the nostalgic in a big way.
"People have been emailing me by the kazillion," board member Paula Hill said. "We recognize the community attachment and we are doing everything we can to facilitate it."

"Absolutely, we recognize the attachment and the community value," Superintendent Vern Henshaw said.

North of Central Elementary in Pleasant Grove, the district purchased and razed an old church with the intention of building a space center on the property when funds became available. But when voters did not want the space center on the bond, work had to be delayed.  Now, the district has formed a committee to explore options for the space center, with a report due in February or March.
We meet again on November 28.
Originally the district sought to budget $1.5 million for the rebuild, but has now raised that to $2.5 million, which does not include the price of property.

"We upped it because we are looking at other possibilities," Smith said. "We are asking ourselves, is it adequate? Is there anything we should add to it? We turn a lot of kids away at the space center" because of space limitations.
A new facility with four large simulators will allow the Space Center to take four classes a day on field trips.  This will double the number of students we currently take.
"We are just simply exploring all options," Henshaw said. "It isn't necessarily that it has to be on that property. The scope of it might be larger than what that is."
The property could be used to expand Central Elementary instead, and the district could purchase a larger property for the space center.
It would be sad to leave Central School.  
The center, named after the teacher who died on the space shuttle Challenger, began as a classroom experiment by Victor Williamson, who teaches at Central Elementary School in Pleasant Grove. Starting with nothing more than an overhead projector, Williamson took his students on a simulated space journey and found that they not only enjoyed the learning experience, but retained information better than they did when taught conventionally.
I did my first classroom space simulation in the spring of 1984.  I still have the original scripts and plastic overlays for the overhead projector.  Someone once told me, "Be careful what you wish for, it may come true."  Look how this simple classroom experiment has evolved. 
Through grants and donations, Williamson was able to build a more advanced and larger scale program at the school until year by year the space center became known statewide and then nationally as a space education center. At its annual scheduled maintenance check in August, however, the local fire marshal discovered several electrical issues that needed to be resolved. There were other issues with simulators that had to be changed and updated to meet city and state codes, so the district shuttered it for the time.
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