A ceremonial groundbreaking was held Jan. 15, 2020, for a $4.6 million STEM laboratory learning center on the SUN ‘n FUN campus on Lakeland Linder International Airport in Florida.
Known as Project Skylab, the learning center is the newest addition to the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE) at KLAL, which includes a high school, Central Florida Aerospace Academy, the Florida Air Museum, the Lakeland Aero Club, and more.
According to ACE officials, Project SkyLab will address the ever-increasing demand for highly skilled aerospace-trained individuals by creating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) laboratory training environments.
In addition to private and corporate donations, Project SkyLab was the recipient of a $493,000 grant from the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs because of the support of the Polk County Legislative Delegation.
Although there is a ways to go to reach the final fundraising goal, committed funds encouraged the ACE Board of Directors to move forward with construction ahead of the original timeline, officials note.
“ACE is a very special and important launchpad for the aerospace industry as our programs and scholarships have caught their attention worldwide. Because of the belief in our collective vision, ACE has the potential to be a major resource in staffing the future of the aerospace industry with its next leaders,” says John “Lites” Leenhouts, ACE president and CEO.
Through Project SkyLab, ACE aims to:
- Meet the expanding facility needs of current ACE educational programs
- Leverage established agreements with higher education and technical training partners who will use the new facility to expand their curriculum and workforce training programs
- Significantly grow informal STEM experiences for young learners.
Major components of the project include:
- Expanding the scope of programs to accommodate the exponential growth of student participants over recent years
- Laboratory learning experiences where major exhibits are moved into classroom spaces for close inspection and training
- Flexible instruction areas for small or large training programs
- Seminars, webcasts, and other large-audience presentations.
Besides catering to students in the local school district, Project Skylab will be available to higher education institutions, including Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Southeastern University, Polk State College, Florida Polytechnic University, and others, ACE officials said.
ACE uses its museum, the Florida Air Museum, to provide students with personal connections to learning in fun and engaging ways. Once students are engaged, ACE offers progressive education programs to develop their interests by leveraging exhibits, activities, and formal scholastic opportunities to accelerate students into high demand, high-paying aerospace careers, officials explain.
The non-profit ACE has emerged as a nationally recognized leader in STEM-related and aerospace education through its various learning centers, outreach programs, summer camps, and scholarships, ACE officials note.
The biggest fundraiser for ACE is the annual SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo — formerly known as the SUN ‘n FUN Fly-In — which attracts pilots from around the world every spring.
The SUN ‘n FUN Aerospace Expo raises more than $2 million every year for ACE, enabling the delivery of STEM-related and aerospace education programs to more than 50,000 youth annually. Known as the fly-in that kicks off airshow season, this year’s SUN ‘n FUN is slated for March 31 to April 5.
According to SUN ‘n FUN officials, they hope to have the shell of the new Project Skylab up in time for this year’s fly-in, so attendees can see the facility, and make donations.