Challenger Learning Center at Shawnee H.S. placed 'on hold' by JCPS
The center at Shawnee High School is part of a network of non-profit centers created after the 1986 Challenger disaster to teach such concepts to students.
"The district knows we have this valuable field trip destination," Dennes said. "It's an exciting thing for kids, but we've worried for the past couple of years about the business model we had because it was costing us a lot of money."
According to Cordelia Hardin, the Chief Financial Officer for JCPS, the facility had an initial cost of $1.2 million to set up, and incurred subsequent annual operating costs of $250,000. In turn, the center brought in between $50,000 and $55,000 per year.
"It's had a loss basically of $200,000 a year, on average," she said.
It may come down to numbers, but Vandermeer said the decision came as a shock to him.
"We're in our fourth year," he added. "We'd be celebrating our fifth year anniversary next January."
Vandermeer says it's his role to maintain the operations of the center for the next few months.
"We were asked to fulfill our obligations through the summer," he said. "We've got a number of missions and camps scheduled."
"We feel comfortable that we can commit through June, but we'll have to see what happens with July."
"I'm hoping that Challenger does go forward in whatever manner and is treated as a STEM resource and not as…a vehicle to make money for the district," he said, adding that, "Challenger centers were not designed to make money. We're a non-profit organization."
He also said he hopes the center maintains a district-wide vision, adding that it's not just a resource for The Academy at Shawnee.
"We're a JCPS resource," he said.
For now, Dennes says the future of the center is riding on finding a business model that makes it financially viable.
"We're pausing right now," she said. "We're looking."
Could the center close?
"At this point we're thinking," she said. "We've got to make it viable."