A new aviation program that will be affiliated with the Aspen School District is moving forward after a $100,000 flight simulator was ordered Friday.
Greg Roark, a pilot and advanced ground-school instructor, has been fundraising for the program since October 2011 when he originally pitched his concept to Superintendent John Maloy. The idea is to house a flight simulator at the school campus and incorporate aviation into multiple fields of study, with faculty from the elementary school on up using it to teach concepts that students are studying.
“The ultimate goal is that we want to excite kids about engineering,” said Roark, a local resident who is married to assistant superintendent Julia Roark. “We need a new generation of kids that build stuff.”
The program, which is funded by private donors, is divided into three phases with escalating price points. The first phase costs about $25,000 and pays for ground-school instruction in Aspen classrooms. The second phase, costing $115,000, includes purchasing a $100,000 Redbird FMX flight simulator. The third phase would entail launching a flight academy, which would require the purchase of an aircraft and could run up to $350,000. Roark initially received some seed money toward the program in 2011 including a $50,000 donation from Lawrence Altman, a local commodities trader and high school football coach, and his wife, Joan.
As of last week, Roark’s nonprofit Aspen Aerospace Alliance and the Aspen Education Foundation (AEF) had raised enough money to fund the first two phases of the program. Roark declined go into detail on the donations and Melissa Long, executive director of AEF, did not return calls seeking comment.
The simulator was ordered Friday and Roark expects it to take a few weeks to arrive, he said. When it does, it will likely be held somewhere on campus temporarily until the basement of the Aspen Middle School is remodeled and it can be placed there. The remodel is expected to be completed sometime in the spring.
In a recent Aspen School District Board of Education meeting that was held before the simulator was ordered, board members questioned whether the district has space to house the simulator. In light of the growing enrollment numbers, classrooms are already in high demand, said board member Sheila Wills. The point of remodeling the basement is to accommodate more students and classrooms, she said. She questioned whether the basement remodel project was being driven by the flight simulator program altogether.
That’s not the case, Maloy said. The simulator will only take up a 96-square-foot space in a 2,550-square-foot room, which will leave plenty of space for other classes, he said. It makes sense to consider the simulator in the remodel discussions, because the program appears to be moving forward and the school is committed to working with Roark, Maloy said.
“I’m committed to it and we have been for a year and a half,” he said.
The board will discuss details of how the program will work at today’s meeting, which begins at 3:45 p.m. at the high school.
Meanwhile, Roark already has 18 people — half of whom are Aspen High School students, while the other half are teachers — signed up for the ground school that begins this spring; Roark could also launch a summer aviation program. He is working on securing the funds for the final phase of the program, which he says could go forward as early as next fall, he said.
Roark said that the program is moving forward thanks to the help of Maloy, the district’s school principals, AEF and donors.
“This is not a one-guy deal,” Roark said. “It takes a lot of people in the community to make this happen.”