Groundbreaking kicks off new Scobee, Challenger Center
Additions will include a gift shop, memorial garden and space station simulator.
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2012 15:05
David Mrizek, vice president of college services, has dreamed of having a Challenger Learning Center at San Antonio College since 1994.
Wednesday, the college took the first physical step with a groundbreaking ceremony that drew about 100 people.
June Scobee-Rodgers, widow of Francis “Dick” Scobee suggested it when she visited the college for the July 9, 1994, dedication of the planetarium to her late husband, a former student who became commander of the space shuttle Challenger.
Scobee and six crew members died in an explosion Jan. 28, 1986, only 73 seconds after launching.
That mission included an elementary teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was to teach several live lessons to America’s schoolchildren from orbit and tape several more.
After the tragedy, the families of the lost astronauts founded the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to continue the spirit of the mission, which focused on education.
Challenger Learning Centers are designed to teach students about aeronautics and its technology, the center’s website states.
This college’s center will be one of 46 in the nation. Texas is home to four centers.
The fundraising goal is $7 million and the balance of $5 million has been obtained with maintenance tax notes.
Serious talks about adding the center started about a year ago after a center was torn down at Brooks City-Base.
“We had the opportunity for it to come back,” Mrizek said. “We want to continue the mission.”
The $12 million renovation will increase the square footage of the planetarium from 3,950 to 21,519. The project is expected to be completed in fall 2013.
The renovation will include a space station simulator, gift shop, mission control room, lobbies and a 100-plus seat planetarium theater, said architect Robert Moritz, a former student of this college.
The floor of the theater will have to be dropped 20 inches to accommodate reclining seating, Moritz said. The third floor of the building will feature a deck with five telescope pedestals and one main telescope.
A memorial will be added to the west side of the planetarium to honor the Challenger mission, Moritz said.
Dr. Robert Zeigler, president of the college, joked that the renovation will finally provide on-site restrooms for planetarium visitors, who previously had to seek facilities next door in the chemistry and geology building.
The day of the ground-breaking ceremony delivered a blue sky as clear as the morning of the Challenger accident.
Pam Peterson, director of strategic partnerships for the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, said, “It is an amazingly, wonderful day.”
“It is really a breakthrough,” President Robert Ziegler said of the changes coming to the 50-year-old planetarium. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for not just the college but for the community.”
Zeigler said the center will be useful in engaging young people in science, engineering and math.
Peterson agreed, saying, “You can actually see the light bulbs going off.”
She said, “Many of the students go into the field,” though the centers are designed so students are “encouraged to do all they can” in all fields of study.
James E. Perschbach, chairman of the Challenger Learning Center advisory committee, said about a million jobs cannot be filled today because people simply do not have the required training in aerospace.
“There is so much more that needs to be done,” Perschbach said.
The former Brooks Air Foce Base on the city’s Southeast Side was home to the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and the city’s Challenger Center. The base closed Aug. 31, the school moved to Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio, and the Challenger Learning Center needed a new home.
Zeigler said it is important to give students a chance to gain experience not just with hands-on activities, but also with mental activities such as the simulator.
Alamo Colleges Chancellor Bruce Leslie agreed, saying, “Learning doesn’t take place only in the classroom.”
Calling the project a “huge achievement,” Leslie said, “We will continue to make San Antonio College one of the best community colleges in the nation.”
For more information, visit www.challenger.org.