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Indiana County space simulator, WCCC branch expansion get $750K boost

Jeff Himler
| Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, 10:27 p.m.
Westmoreland County Community College on Sept. 12, 2016.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Community College on Sept. 12, 2016.

A $750,000 state grant announced Friday is expected to provide a major boost to plans for a regional space mission simulator and an expanded branch of Westmoreland County Community College in Indiana County.

A proposal calls for the WCCC branch campus and the Central Allegheny Challenger Learning Center to lease space in a 29,000-square-foot building, constructed by the Indiana County Development Corporation on the grounds of the Indiana County Technology Center in White Township. Underlying agreements among the parties have yet to be approved.

The Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant brings to $4.75 million Pennsylvania’s financial commitment to a project meant to support workforce development, said state Sen. Don White (R-Indiana).

“This funding will allow the project to quickly move forward at no direct cost to (Indiana County Technology Center), the Indiana County school districts that send students there and, ultimately, local taxpayers,” he said.

“We are working with WCCC in pursuing this exciting education opportunity, and this additional state funding brings us a lot closer to making the project a reality,” said state Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana).

Tentative plans call for WCCC to move into about 17,500 square feet of the building on Hamill Road, from less than 8,000 square feet it currently leases along Airport Road in White. WCCC would gain on-site lab space, said Byron Stauffer, executive director of the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development.

The new building is to be attached to the existing Technology Center school, which provides vocational skills instruction to students from several Indiana County high schools as well as adult learners. Stauffer said the buildings will have separate, secure entrances.

“We’ll be able to start final design based on this grant award,” Stauffer said Friday. He said additional funding may be needed depending on the requirements of the tenants.

The remainder of the building is intended for the Challenger Learning Center, which would offer hands-on science, technology, engineering and math instruction through simulated spaceflight missions. The center primarily would serve school students in a 22-county area including Westmoreland and part of Allegheny County.

It would join a growing number of Challenger centers nationwide envisioned by families of astronauts lost in the Challenger Space Shuttle explosion. The closest center for area students is in Wheeling, W.Va.

White Township attorney Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, who chairs a committee working to develop the local Challenger Center, welcomed Friday’s grant announcement.

“We’ve been working hard on this for years,” she said of the proposed center. “With this large investment in the overall project, we feel pretty confident.”

Through separate grants and donations, she said, the committee has raised enough to cover the estimated $3 million cost of developing the Challenger Center’s interior space. She said the committee, which includes WCCC President Tuesday Stanley, must continue raising funds to help cover the center’s first few years of operations, pegged at about $200,000 per year.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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