In The News.
Charter school occupies Eclipse Aviation’s old training center
New Mexico Business Weekly by Kevin Robinson-Avila, NMBW Senior Reporter
Date: Tuesday, February 7, 2012, 2:50pm MST - Last Modified: Tuesday, February 7, 2012, 3:39pm MST
Eclipse Aviation Corp.’s mothballed pilot training center is rising from the ashes to prepare high school students for careers in aviation and technology.
Southwest Learning Centers, a charter school that focuses on a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum, will open its second high school at the former Eclipse facility near Double Eagle II airport on Albuquerque’s Westside.
The school will lease the 41,000-square-foot building from the city of Albuquerque, which acquired it after Eclipse went bankrupt in 2009. The company had invested $30 million in the facility, which housed high-tech flight simulators to train pilots to fly the Eclipse 500 very light jet.
Southwest Learning Centers, which launched in 2000, will lease the building to serve students living on the Westside, said school founder and Head Administrator Scott Glasrud. It also operates three schools in the Northeast Heights for elementary, middle and high school students, all housed in one building.
“We have almost 4,100 students on the waiting list now to get into Southwest Learning Centers,” Glasrud said. “About 1,100 of them live west of the Rio Grande, and they’re willing to drive to the Eastside to attend, so we figured we needed to expand to the Westside.”
The charter school signed a five-year lease agreement with two five-year extension options. It will pay the city $6 per square foot, or about $246,000 per year, compared to an average New Mexico charter rate of $11.11 per square foot, Glasrud said.
Mayor Richard Berry and state officials joined Glasrud at a news conference at the facility Tuesday morning to announce the agreement.
Berry said he was particularly enthusiastic about leasing the facility to Southwest Learning Centers, because the group focuses on STEM education and technology-based careers, with a special emphasis on the aviation industry.
“This will help create opportunities for kids and provide a pipeline of talent for avionics firms in New Mexico that need smart, talented and well-educated employees,” Berry told the Business Weekly. “It’s a win-win.”
Southwest Learning Centers is one of five high schools nationwide that offer in-flight training as part of an aviation program, according to the Federal Aviation Administration .
The school allows students to earn a pilot’s license while studying for careers in aviation. It leases two planes at Double Eagle II from Bode Aviation Inc., which supplies flight instructors for students.
Families pay $4,580 for the training, compared to an average of $12,000 for people who earn a pilot’s license from a private provider, Glasrud said.
“They pay for instruction time in the airplane,” Glasrud said. “We’ve graduated 21 student pilots since we started the program about three and one half years ago. Two of the graduates are now working for the FAA, and two others are employed as commercial pilots.”
About a dozen New Mexico-based aviation firms partner with the school to help educate students. Aspen Avionics Inc., which makes modern digital cockpits for general aviation at a facility in Albuquerque, has hosted student tours to expose them to real-world avionics work and allow them to interact with people employed in the industry.
Aspen also has agreed to offer paid summer internships for some students, Glasrud said.
Aspen President and CEO John Uczekaj said he wants to get students engaged in aviation.
“We want the kids to talk directly with technicians, pilots, engineers and others to better understand the careers they’re going into and the jobs that are available,” Uczekaj said. “A big difficulty for Aspen is finding the talent it needs. Often we have to search outside New Mexico, so this center can provide a foundation for our future workforce.”
Mike McConnell, former president and general manager of Eclipse Aviation’s customer division, who is now launching an aviation engineering company in Albuquerque, said he is elated that the Eclipse building will offer aviation-related training again.
“I’m so happy this building can be re-purposed to educate and train people,” McConnell said. “That’s exactly why we built it.”
The new high school – to be called the Southwest Aeronautics, Mathematics and Science Academy (SAMS) – will open in August, after the building is renovated. Southwest Learning Centers will invest about $200,000 to remodel the facility.
Like the charter’s three schools in the Northeast Heights, SAMS will offer a broad, STEM-based curriculum that relies heavily on technology and self-based learning. Southwest Learning Centers allows high school students to study through computer programs with individualized assistance from teachers. They also do hands-on technology projects throughout the school year.
More than 500 students are enrolled at the charter school, with 300 in high school, 112 in middle school and 105 in elementary. Expectations are that SAMS could enroll 220.
Posted February 10, 2012