$500K Hangars Include Space for Drones, Precision Ag Program

Aug. 29--Clark State Community College and the city of Springfield will collaborate on a $500,000 project to build new hangars at the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport next year, including to house drones.

The new hangars could attract businesses to the airport, Clark State President Jo Alice Blondin said, which could lead to internships and other support systems for students.

"It's an unmatched opportunity for our students and faculty," she said.

The college also received about $471,000 in state workforce development grant money Thursday to renovate the Learning Resource Center at its Leffel Lane campus, which will be used to house the information technology component of the school's new unmanned aerial systems precision agriculture program.

The hangar project consists of 10 new hangers, including six new T-hangars and four larger box hangars, that will be built at the airport, 1251 W. Blee Road.

The T-hangars will be used for general aviation and the box hangars will likely be used for unmanned aircraft, said Tom Franzen, assistant city manager and director of economic development.

The project will be paid for with money approved earlier this year as part of the state capital budget.

Clark State will have one box hangar reserved for its new precision agriculture program, an emerging field that includes using drones to gather real-time data on crops. The college's board of trustees approved a joint-use agreement with the city on Tuesday.

"We're extremely happy to assist Clark State as they stand up their precision agriculture program to make sure they have facilities that are adequate to address their needs," Franzen said.

The city wanted to begin the hangar project this fall, but it's still waiting on final approval from the Ohio Board of Regents. Construction is now expected to begin next spring and be completed by the end of next summer.

The access to the airport is key to Clark State's precision agriculture program, which has 20 students enrolled this fall, according Blondin. The college now offers a two-year applied science Associate's degree in the only accredited precision agriculture program in Ohio.

"As we develop our resources and our program, it's a real opportunity of for us to grow and have a presence there as well," Blondin said.

The college will also have access to equipment and other amenities at the airport that will save money as the program continues to grow over the next few years.

"We won't have to duplicate and purchase," said Joe Jackson, Clark State's vice president of business affairs. "We're real happy with the collaboration with the city so that we don't have to do that."

Clark State is in the process of getting a certificate of authorization to fly unmanned aircraft at the airport.

The program is off to a great start with twice the students the college had projected and is going to "grow exponentially," Blondin said.

The city has faced a lack of available hangar space at the 1,800-acre airport for both businesses and general aviation, Franzen said.

"The stars aligned as far as the funding, which is extremely helpful," he said.

The airport saw more than 9,500 flights in 2012 during the hours the air traffic control tower is operational, and more than 9,600 last year, including military, general aviation, passenger airline, corporate jets and unmanned aerial systems flights, according to airport records.

This year nearly 6,300 flights have used the airport through June.

The airport has had a waiting list of at least 10 people for hangar space, Franzen said.

"We'll see how those get absorbed by new folks coming to the airport," he said. "It will help determine the future of additional hangars being built at the airport. It'll be a way to test the market as well."

The city will attract more businesses to airport by adding more hangar space and more certificate of authorizations for unmanned aircraft, said Frank Beafore of SelectTech Geospatial, a company that specializes in manufacturing unmanned aircraft.

Several companies approach Beafore at this week's Ohio UAS Conference at the Dayton Convention Center about possibly locating in Springfield.

"We've got this great resource out there and we've got to put our best foot forward and sell it," he said.

The grant money provided for Clark State's Library Resource Center on the Leffel Lane Campus will create state-of-the-art classrooms and computer labs in a building that hasn't been updated in 42 years.

The college will purchase computers, security cameras, information technology infrastructure and classroom technology. It will be used for academic programs such as computer networking, cyber security and software development, as well as the precision agriculture program.

It will also offer certification testing for IT students at a new Assessment and Certification Center. The tests are currently offered only in Dayton and Columbus.

"This grant allows Clark State to develop and expand its innovative programs that develop a highly capable workforce to fill in-demand jobs in the IT industry," said state Sen. Chris Widener, R-Springfield, in a news release.

Copyright 2014 - Dayton Daily News, Ohio

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