Venables: State Should Fund Smyrna Earth & Space Campus

Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation (DASEF)

For Immediate Release: Jan 18
Contact Patrick Jackson at 744-4046

SMYRNA – Saying he’s impressed with what the Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation’s been able to do with minimal state assistance, Sen. Robert Venables says he’s going to recommend that Gov. Jack Markell budget the money that’s needed to put construction of the foundation’s campus here over the top.

“I marvel at how much they’ve done without a lot of state money,” said Venables, D-Laurel, and Wednesday following a tour of the campus. “I think with what they do by teaching our kids who are in public schools, private schools and charter schools, we need to tie it in with the education system to help them out.”

Besides talking to Markell about the major construction work, Venables said he’s challenging his fellow lawmakers to pony up a portion of their local transportation money to help pay for work on the center’s paving and street lighting. Besides state assistance, the foundation has drawn on help from a range of business and foundations around the state as well as assistance from federal agencies, including NASA.
 
Venables and other lawmakers, including Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, got a look at what’s known as “the Outpost,” which houses the state’s second-largest celestial telescope, as well as the unfinished building which will house the foundation’s class rooms, exhibit space and overnight accommodations for its popular space camp program.

The space camp, which is currently held at the University of Delaware during the summer, is probably the foundation’s best-known program, although it also hosts numerous day programs, serving between 16,000 and 17,000 students annually at the Outpost as well as numerous outreach programs around the state, said Stephanie Wright, the foundation’s president and chief operating officer. Wright said progress on the main building – whose skeletal steel structure puzzled many a motorist on Del.  1 before it was enclosed – has been slow because the foundation’s policy has been not to borrow for work, instead paying for work as it amassed funding.

Wright described Venables’ decision to talk to Markell about finding the roughly $7.1 million needed to complete the work on the building as “joyous.” Venables is co-chairman of the Joint Bond Bill Committee, which writes the state’s annual construction budget.

“[Venables] has been in our court for many years,” she said. “He’s just decided to issue this challenge and it’s just wonderful.”

Given the state’s tight revenue forecasts, Ennis said that finding the money might pose a challenge, but he credited Venables for focusing on the project.

“There’s a lot of demand for state money – capital resources in particular,” Ennis said. “There’s certainly a need for aerospace education, which is what this location is all about. I think what Sen. Venables is saying is that, with the emphasis on education, this might be an area where a portion of the education budget might assist them.”

Besides teaching young people about aviation and space, the foundation also looks earthward, teaching about a wide range of topics. The foundation’s campus also is a learning tool, using solar power to operate as an energy-neutral facility. In addition to solar and its planned green roof section, the new building will feature geothermal heating and cooling.

“We aren’t just focused on space,” Wright said. “We are focused at looking out to space and back to the earth – everything from dinosaurs to space.”

Whether he ultimately succeeds in getting full construction funding this year, Venables indicated that he wants to keep working with the foundation until the facility’s up and running.

“When I see all the other money we put out for things that don’t reach the plateau this has in our education system,” he said, “we need to see if we can’t find a way to help out.”

Dr. Stephanie Wright and Senator Robert Venables, Laurel in DASEF’s Mountjoy Observatory

 

 

Back (L-R) Senator Bruce Ennis, Smyrna, DASEFBoard Member Mike Houser, Representative Harvey Kenton, Milford, RepresentativeDave Wilson, Cedar Creek, DASEF Board Member Charlie Michels, DASEF Board ChairGary Bell, Represenatiave. Bobby Outten, Harrington

Front (L-R) DASEF President and CEO StephanieWright, Senator Bob Venables, DASEF Board Member, Teresa Connor