Parkland considers aviation agreement with UI
CHAMPAIGN — After tonight, Parkland College could be one step closer to offering pilot training in East Central Illinois.
Parkland trustees will consider approval of an agreement between Parkland and the University of Illinois that entails the community college taking on oversight of the UI's aviation programs.
The UI has planned to shutter its Institute of Aviation in August 2014, and as the closing date approached, officials from Parkland, the UI and not-for-profit company Riverside Research have been discussing how Parkland could assume some of the institute's activities, The News-Gazette reported this summer.
According to the proposed agreement now before trustees, Parkland would lease the institute's facilities, including classrooms and offices, at Willard Airport in Savoy for $1 a year for three years. The college also would have use of the institute's aircraft, possibly taking over ownership of the fleet in the future. In addition, the agreement calls for the UI and Parkland to develop a "pathway" program for students interested in transferring to the university to obtain aviation-related, four-year degrees.
"We're making the commitment of creating a degree program, taking over the operation ... with the intent of making the program valuable," said Parkland College President Tom Ramage.
A decision to go forward with the program transfer would put Parkland College into new academic territory. The community college has offered some aviation-related classes in the past but not private or commercial pilot certificates.
Ramage said officials have been talking to UI administrators for several years about the possibility of being involved in flight training. After much debate, the UI Board of Trustees voted in July 2011 to close the Institute of Aviation after campus administrators questioned how the institute fit the Urbana campus' core mission. The committee report, with which some institute employees disagreed, also cited declining interest in the program and estimated that the university could save as much as $750,000 a year by closing it.
"Mission fit is one of the reasons the UI had cited in their reasons for discontinuing. Mission fit is exactly why we are interested in continuing it," Ramage said. "We train operators for variety of different equipment. For example, we train people to operate tractor trailers who will then work for certain industries."
Because of its lack of expertise in aviation, Parkland has turned to defense contractor Riverside Research, which opened an office in Champaign in 2009. The Champaign office, which has 12 people on staff, has done work in computational science, high-performance computing, trusted cloud applications and other areas, said Glen Salo, research manager with Riverside's Champaign office, which is called the Computational Science and Engineering Laboratory. Nationally, the company is involved in various training and educational endeavors, including providing teachers for the Air Force Institute of Technology, he said.
If both Parkland and the UI finalize the intergovernmental agreement, then Parkland will draw up its own agreement with Riverside this fall, according to Ramage.
"We are looking at ways to expand the flight training operations," Salo said. However, Riverside, he said, also is interested in expanding its involvement beyond flight training to other research-focused activities such as remote sensing for precision agriculture, which entails using data for soil or nutrient or other analysis in farming.
Some of the aviation institute employees could apply for jobs with Parkland or some could seek employment with Riverside, Ramage said. Exactly how many will join Parkland or Riverside is not clear at this time, he said.
Whether or not the program proves to be viable will depend on enrollment, he said.
The UI currently has about $3 million remaining in the institute's budget, according to Mike DeLorenzo, associate chancellor for the UI. Once signed, the agreement calls for the university to transfer $250,000 of that money to Parkland. The money will go toward early staffing and marketing, Ramage said.
"We realize they have got to get it up and running and let people know about it. They'll need students enrolled for the next fall," DeLorenzo said.
Over the next year the university will upgrade the institute's fleet of aircraft, depending on Parkland's needs, he said. After the planes are purchased, half of the remaining funds will be transferred to Parkland by next August. Finally, a year from then in August 2015, any remaining amount will be transferred.
"I think it's a win-win. The program stays alive and in the community. It fits a little better with Parkland and worked out well for both of us," DeLorenzo said.
Once Parkland approves the agreement it will go back to the UI campus for signatures from campus officials.