AN AVIATION TECH CENTER
SIU and the Southern Illinois Airport combine forces to create a Transportation Education Center
By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
DARBONDALE, IL - It is 10 a.m. on a hot, muggy summer day in the southernmost county in Illinois. The air conditioned office of the Dean of Applied Sciences offers an air of degreed professionalism. She and four professors are telling their story, of creating a transportation education center that unites two of Southern Illinois University's nationally recognized programs - aviation and automotive tech - under one very modern roof. It will become part of - and build on - the aviation presence SIU already has at the Southern Illinois Airport. They are also talking of what it will take to get it done - money.
The next step toward this transportation goal presents sort of a chicken and egg scenario. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) has the project high on its radar screen, and will soon tell SIU officials whether or not they will get its funding. Public agencies such as IBHE, however, often are influenced by the level of support from industry that will benefit. In this case, officials say the target is $3 million from private donations, and they intentionally leave the impression that two major donors may be pending. But more may be needed up front, before IBHE makes its decision.
Explains Professor Elaine M. Vitello, Ph.D., dean of SIU's College of Applied Sciences and Arts, "This is an attempt to bring together related but separate transportation programs. It's been a four-year process to get us to this point, working on development of the program and selling it to the communities, the airport authority, and private companies and individuals. So far, no one has said no."
Regarding the prospects for getting the necessary industry and public funding to complete the project, Vitello says, "We work in the sunshine."
PREPARING THE INFRASTRUCTURE
Meanwhile, the Southern Illinois Airport Authority has worked with the Illinois Department of Transportation and the FAA to create an infrastructure that is primed for the SIU development and is prepared to handle any multiplier growth.
Projects nearing completion include a $3.41 million runway extension and taxiway relocation, and $803,000 worth of parking lot and roadway improvements.
Comments airport director Gary Shafer, "Essentially, all the pavement on the airport is new or has been approved to be upgraded. We're also updating our Airport Layout Plan using GIS (Geographic Information System). We're doing an environmental assessment, and looking to add more tiedown capacity."
Shafer, who has served at the airport 21 years, 19 as airport manager, has been working with his major tenant, SIU, from the outset on the Transportation Education Center project. In fact, as part of the package, SIU traded an acre of prime airport development property for nine acres it will require for its center activities. Explains Shafer, "Of the 750 airport acres, SIU owns a critical 16 acres in the middle for the tech center."
THE TRANSPORTATION COMPLEX
"Our vision is that the tech center will be an education/student complex," explains SIU dean Vitello. The initial layout calls for a 182,300-square foot main building, along with auto fleet storage, a hangar to house SIU's 737 it uses for technical training, and an engine test cell facility. Total cost is estimated at $34 million.
Vitello estimates that pledges of 5 to 10 percent of that sum need to come from private industry, and companies have expressed strong interest, she says. However, as the state reviews the merits of the education complex, she adds, it will be influenced by the commitment of those industries it stands to benefit.
Integral to a successful public relations effort is ensuring that the public is informed and that there is a general feeling of involvement or having a stake in the future of the region’s airport.
With a select team of universities, COE will focus research and testing efforts on safety, accessibility and sustainability to enhance the future of general aviation