Aerospace program works out deal to stay here

By Katheran Wasson Published:

The nonprofit organization that proposed building a $1.5 million aerospace education center at the Capital City Airport has reached an agreement with state officials to stay in Frankfort.

Kentucky Institute for Aerospace Education leaders announced last month that they would move to Southern Indiana if a plan to use hangar and runway space in Frankfort collapsed.

But Tim Smith, a teacher at Frankfort High School and chief executive officer of the nonprofit organization, says he and state Transportation Cabinet officials negotiated a solution this week.

“They really want us to stay in Kentucky, and they don’t want the institute to move out of the state,” Smith said.

“We’re very pleased because although the opportunity to move to Indiana was a viable option, it would have really overextended our organization.”

The 12,000-square-foot facility would serve as headquarters for the statewide institute and a site for summer aviation camps and teacher training.

The groups were at an impasse because the cabinet wouldn’t agree to a lease at the airport until the institute raised funds for construction – but Smith said donors weren’t willing to give money without a signed lease.

The deal was contingent on a corporate entity signing on to occupy a second hangar nearby. But no one bid on the project, so the Transportation Cabinet put its plans to extend the ramp to the site of the proposed education center on hold.

Smith says state officials agreed to three items this week:

>The state will issue a letter of intent and a draft lease for the property that will help the nonprofit organization seek private donations for construction.

>The state will extend the apron -- the pavement adjacent to the runway and hangars -- as originally planned at a cost of about $300,000. The aerospace institute will work with the Frankfort Plant Board to reduce the cost for installing utilities to the site. The airport will continue to seek tenants for the second hangar space.

>The state will enter into a lease agreement directly with the aerospace institute, instead of requiring the organization to go through the University of Kentucky. Besides the cost of renovations, use of the facility at Capital City Airport will be free of charge.

Transportation officials could not be reached for comment.

Smith and his organization plan to solicit Kentucky’s aerospace industry for donations. The facility will be privately funded, he said.

“We are very much hoping that the aerospace industry will really come forward and help us so that we can show other schools in our network what it means to really have an industry-standard facility that incorporates aircraft maintenance, flight and design and engineering,” he said.

Smith hopes to break ground on the first phase of the project within a few months. It could include the shell of the building, heating and cooling at a cost of about $500,000.

“I believe it’s going to be a multi-year project, but at least we’re going to be out of the weather so students and our volunteers won’t have to bear the cold and the wet and the rain that we have in the previous years,” he said.

Aviation students currently work in a small hangar without heat. The new facility would allow them to avoid weather problems and house more planes.

The entire project, which could include a library, classrooms and flight simulators, is projected to cost $1.5 million. The mission of the organization is to bolster science, technology, engineering and math education and build career pathways for its students, Smith said.

Sixteen schools across Kentucky participate in the institute, which has supported aerospace education programs in schools for the last two years. Anyone interested in volunteering time or donating money may contact Smith at tim@kiae.org or 502-320-9490.

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