Now that SUN ’n FUN 2018 is over, that doesn’t mean that work stops on the grounds of the fly-in at Lakeland-Linder Regional Airport (KLAL) in Florida.
“We are just starting a capital campaign to add a $4 million expansion to the front of the Aerospace Discovery at the Florida Air Museum,” reports SUN ’n FUN President John “Lites” Leenhouts.
The funds will be used to build three convertible, large-scale, STEM learning classrooms, he explains. The walls of the building will be collapsible, so the three buildings can turn into a 1,000 seat student auditorium, he notes.
The classrooms will be available for use by any school district in the area, he adds.
“It doesn’t matter if you are from Polk County or wherever. You can still use it and we won’t charge for classroom events,” he says. “We’ll use our wind tunnel, our airframes, engines, whatever. We just roll them in and out because it’s all part of the front part of the Aerospace Discovery.”
Students from the area will travel to the SUN ’n FUN campus for a half day of STEM learning. Teachers also will get the chance to learn during the visits to Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE) and take that new information back to their classrooms and expand it, he said.
He noted ACE educators already write lesson plans for Polk County teachers. And Richele Floyd, director of education, travels to schools in the area at least three times a week, taking either an airplane or the portable planetarium.
According to Lites, SUN ’n FUN has not asked the Polk County School District to help with funding the new buildings.
“But they made a verbal commitment that if we can get it built they will help populate it with all the logistical infrastructure, such as desks and chairs and white boards,” he says.
He adds he’s confident they have half of it paid for already.
“This year is a fundraising year,” he says, noting they would like to “put the shovel in the dirt” at the end of next year’s SUN ’n FUN.
“And we’ll be done by December,” he says.
Expanding the educational component of SUN ’n FUN is “what we do now,” Leenhouts says.
“SUN ’n FUN is the fundraising arm and the Aerospace Center for Excellence is where we put the money,” he says.