$6.5 million building at university airport promises more space

Natalie Meek and Colin Baker

Kent State’s Aeronautics Program plans to add a $6.5 million academic building to the Kent State University Airport property.

The new 17,800-square-foot facility will house collaborative spaces, upgraded virtual reality flight simulators, faculty and administrative offices and pilot and passenger support spaces. 

Most of the aeronautics program operates within the College of Aeronautics and Engineering building located along the Esplanade on main campus. Flight training and certain classes are taught on-site at the university airport.

The Kent State University Airport was built in 1917, according to the university airport’s website, and is located four miles west of the main campus in Stow. It consists of a hangar, runway, five office trailers and other small maintenance buildings.

Michael Bruder, the executive director of facilities, planning and design for Kent State, said the distance between sites, the size of the classrooms and the quality of resources contribute to the challenges of the college’s current situation.

 

“The facilities out at the airport for our aeronautics students are too small and in poor condition,” Bruder said. “Each classroom out there is a modular classroom. We want to give improved offices for our academic staff and better facilities for our students.”

Classes at the airport are held in trailers that were originally only meant to be temporary structures, but are now more than a decade old.

Maureen McFarland, the senior academic program director of aeronautics, described some of the hardships presented by the aging infrastructure.

“If you’re a student who wants to go on a flight, you might have to go to four different buildings to talk to people,” McFarland said. “We often have internet challenges. … Our simulators absolutely 100 percent are not good — that trailer is literally falling apart.”

In response to these issues, the College of Aeronautics and Engineering has spent years fundraising and planning for the addition of an academic building to the university airport.

President Beverly Warren has made investing in the program a priority by advocating donor support of the new facility in the College of Aeronautics and Engineering Impact Profile, a description of donation usage and priorities within the college. 

“Our first-class programs in aeronautics are recognized nationally and beyond for their excellence, and it’s long past time that their physical facilities match the innovative and transformative education taking place for our students,” Warren said.

Last year, a $1.5 million donation from FedEx provided the jumpstart for the transformation of aeronautics facilities. 

Now, for every dollar donated toward the new academic building, the College of Aeronautics and Engineering will match the donation with $2. 

Robert Sines, the interim dean of the College of Aeronautics and Engineering, said with continued support from Warren, he hopes to break ground on the project in Spring 2018.

“Having a nice facility for students to go to will be incredibly beneficial for the college,” Sines said. “It’s strange to see students going to class in trailers.”

AECOM Services of Ohio, Inc. is designing this project and is being managed through OAKS-CI.

Julie Austin, the associate director of advancement for the College of Aeronautics and Engineering, said the building will be placed next to the existing runway.

“The new building is designed so that students will be able to watch planes come and go,” Austin said. “There will be a wall of glass windows and students will be able to sit and enjoy the view.”

Students like Madison Mahon and Ayman Al Umuri, senior aeronautics and engineering majors, may not have the chance to be students in the new building before graduation, but said they were excited nonetheless.

“I definitely look forward to it,” Mahon said. “I think we need it. We’ve needed it for quite some time now.”

Al Umuri has seen the need for a separate building for some time, “it’s hard to be with all the engineering students and not have our own building,” Al Umuri said. “Hopefully they will move aeronautics classes to the new building because sometimes here there are not enough seats available.”

Aside from the student benefits, the College of Aeronautics and Engineering wants to construct this new building because of its expected impact on the recruitment of aeronautics majors.

The college’s Impact Profile predicts with this new infrastructure, the university will become America’s leading public institution providing aeronautics education and research.

Sines said the idea of this new facility was to better equip and recruit the next generation of aviation specialists and pilots.

The 2016 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook predicts a need for 617,000 new commercial airline pilots worldwide by 2035.

 “The most important piece of this is that we are facing an enormous pilot shortage,” Austin said. “This will be Kent State’s way to address that, in a state-of-the-art academic environment.”

Natalie Meek is the south regional campuses and aeronautics reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

Colin Baker is the construction and architecture reporter. Contact him at [email protected]