Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Price increases for Des Moines schools aviation facility

The price tag for a new aviation facility in the Des Moines school district has jumped by $400,000 since the project was approved in February.

In addition, the district hasn't determined a final location for the facility although it will be built in the vicinity of McCombs Middle School, 201 County Line Road.

The school board approved building plans last week for a $2.9 million, 25,000-square-foot aviation facility, That's a 16 percent jump or $400,000 more than what the board initially approved earlier this year.

"Sound control is something I think we underestimated. Want to make sure that we're good neighbors, so there were some more costs associated with that," said Bill Good, chief of operations for the district. "$2.5 million was an estimated cost at the time without any design. Now that we have the design for the building, we have a better understanding of what we need."

Money for the new facility will still come from the statewide penny sales tax, a fund used for construction and building maintenance.

Initially, the district considered building on land north of McCombs, but that could cause problems for the future expansion of Blank Park Zoo or Blank Golf Course, Good said. Officials are now considering building the facility on district-owned land east of the school, on the opposite side of Chaffee Road.

To reach that solution requires a bit more bureaucracy.

Good said the city council would need to waive its sound ordinance since aircraft engine testing at the facility would likely exceed the legal city code thresholds for a decibel limit for land near the golf course. And the district also needs permission from the city to build closer to the property line of land now owned by the Polk County Conservation Commission.

The only time those engines would run is on Tuesday or Thursday during the school year, Good said.

The new facility will feature larger classroom spaces and a hangar for five aircraft. Construction could start this fall with completion by August 2015 when the agreement with Des Moines International Airport, where the program currently operates, comes to an end.

"This has been a valuable program over the years and becomes valuable for not only today but also with the baby boomers and the retirement in the aviation field has been huge," said Gary McClanahan, director of Central Campus. "There's going to be an opportunity for placement for these students and we know that to be an absolute fact."

A new instructor was added this year to include introductory pilot courses, expanding the aviation technologies program established in the 1940s beyond just mechanics.

"Right now, we're not offering the actual flight component. It's all the ground school they need to do before they start flying," said Tim Harmer, a program instructor. "That is something we would like to pursue down the road."

This year, 12 students are taking new ground pilot classes, Harmer said. About 30 high school students are enrolled in the aviation maintenance program, where they learn how to fix the frame or the engine of an aircraft.

Harmer , a former emergency medical service helicopter pilot, said the new space should provide better facilities for teaching an expanded curriculum.

"We'll end up with larger, modern classrooms," he said.

The new facility would include a welding and painting shop and more aircraft for an increased emphasis in helicopter mechanics and piloting, Harmer said.

Des Moines' Central Campus is one of only three high schools in the country with Federal Aviation Administration certification to teach aircraft maintenance.

The existing facility currently operating inside a hangar at the Des Moines airport was built in 1974 and paid for through a school tax levy. That building, however, has belonged to the airport for the past two decades under an agreement between the airport and the school board.

The future of the program had been under threat. The program currently operates inside a hangar at the Des Moines International Airport, but officials there had initially refused to extend the rent agreement beyond June.

- Source:  http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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