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Arizona Challenger Space Center to close in August after building sold, now looking for new home

Posted: 2:49 PM, Jul 11, 2017
Updated: 2017-07-12 15:05:42-04
Arizona Challenger Space Center to close in August after building sold, now looking for new home

The Arizona Challenger Space Center in Peoria will close in August after its building was sold, but its operators don't plan on leaving the area.

Executive Director Beverly Swayman confirmed Tuesday that the space center will close on August 5.

The team will then have to clear the 28,000-square-foot building of its flight simulator, artifacts, and displays by September 30, a time-consuming and costly task, she said.

It is not clear who bought the building or how it will be used.

What is clear is that the space center has to find a new home.

Swayman said the space center is currently looking for a new space to move the center's exhibits, but also a space that will allow the center's programs and artifacts to grow.

"It's not just a memorial," she said. "It is a living, breathing entity."

"It isn't about a building. It's what happens inside that building," she added.

She said the space center was going to announce classes and workshops in robotics and coding soon. Those programs have been tabled because of the impending move.

The center's flight simulator alone will take three weeks to pack and move, and another two weeks to reassemble, she said, a cost estimated to be $300,000.

The cost to relocate the entire facility is estimated to be between $500,000 and $1,000,000.

"It's a formidable amount," she said. And not in their budget.

She said the former owner of the building said he would help with relocation costs, but the center will also be asking for the public's help.

The space center has been in talks with many areas, said Swayman, but has primarily spoken with representatives in Glendale, Peoria and Phoenix.

Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers confirmed through a spokeswoman that he has had "initial discussions" with a Board member for the space center and "is in support of them coming to Glendale." No specific sites have been identified.

Cathy Carlat, mayor of Peoria, said in a statement that she was "disheartened" about the space center's move and that she "has great respect for Challenger Centers throughout our nation, who bring hands on interest to kids in STEM subjects."

"It's unfortunate that this matter between the private property owner and the Challenger Space Center has interrupted their mission. It is my hope that they will endeavor to carry on as an exciting space-based learning environment," the statement continued.

A ONE-OF-A-KIND MURAL

Relocating also means that the center's 360-degree mural painted by artist Robert McCall, reportedly his last before his death in 2010, will have to be left behind.

"We wish there was a way to bring the mural with us to our new location, but in consulting with preservation experts, the risk of damage would be too great to try to remove it from the existing building," Swayman said in a news release. "We are hopeful that the new owners will appreciate the importance of this work and continue to make it available to the public."

The mural is valued at $500,000, but to Swayman, it is irreplaceable.

The space center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, opened in 2000 and pays tribute to space exploration and the astronauts lost in the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Swayman said the space center is one of four centers that are independently funded and the only one in the state. It is not funded by a university or government program.

It was supported by the Peoria Unified School District, but that funding was pulled in 2005, according to the GlendaleStar.com , who first reported on the center's closure.

MEMBERSHIPS, SCHOOL TRIPS AND CAMPS:

The Space Center said it is working with schools who have already booked field trips to the fall. The options include rescheduling the trip once the center moves or booking an outreach program.

Memberships and complimentary passes will be extended for the timeframe it takes to relocate, according to the release.

Summer Camps, including Cosmic Kids Camp, will still go on as planned.

Stargazing Nights previously scheduled for August and September have been canceled.

EXTENDED HOURS:

The center said it will also extend its hours prior to closing on August 5. The hours will be updated weekly on its website, www.azchallenger.org .