Tonawanda News

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August 29, 2013

Challenger Center opening in Lockport

Tonawanda News — After seven years of planning and pleading for financial backing, a Lockport-based Challenger Learning Center is all but locked in and ready for liftoff.

On Monday, directors of the nascent CLC of Orleans Niagara Erie signed a 10-year lease for space to house the center’s new home, the first floor of Harrison Place Building 1 at Washburn and Walnut streets.

Having secured a physical home, and the outer space mission simulators around which its education program is built, the only thing blocking CLC-ONE’s launch now is money. To outfit the space as an approved Challenger Learning Center, directors still need to raise about $150,000, according to Executive Director Kathy Michaels.

That’s a fraction of the original $1 million estimate to take CLC-ONE from concept to completion — the balance having been raised quietly over time, from an ongoing membership drive, donations and grants from sources including New York State and the Lockport-based Grigg-Lewis Foundation — but all along, fundraising has been a slow and arduous. Michaels is convinced that, on top of difficult economic times, the lack of a home for the center has made it a tough sell to potential donors.

Hopefully that’ll change now, and quickly, she said. The organization has been getting estimates for needed services and goods — construction of a handicap access ramp, and interior demolition work, for instance — and is approaching grant-givers, small businesses and individuals to underwrite pieces of the project’s final phase.

“It’s been a dream for so long, and we’re very close now,” CLC-ONE board member Patrick Schrader said.

Challenger Learning Centers are privately run, not-for-profit entities that promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education of K-through-12th-grade students, particularly middle school students, by running simulated space missions.

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