PENSACOLA — The visionaries behind the proposed National Flight Academy at the National Museum of Naval Aviation imagine a science-based learning facility that will help students reach for the stars — literally.
They imagine hundreds of students each week learning from technology that could put them behind the controls of a military jet or a NASA spaceship.
They envision hundreds of jobs and a learning facility that will pump millions of dollars into the local economy each year.
But imagining the academy, on the drawing board for more than a decade, is the easy part. Coming up with the money to make it a reality is much harder.
They've raised the $17.5 million to build the four-story, 100,000-square-foot academy and are diligently working potential corporate, private and government donors to raise the $8.8 million still needed to outfit the academy — flight simulators aren't cheap — and to design programs.
"We need to do this so we can inspire kids in science, technology, engineering and math," said the gung-ho fundraiser-in-chief, retired Navy Vice Adm. Gerald Hoewing, president of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, the fundraising arm of the National Museum of Naval Aviation.
If the National Flight Academy is to open by the May 2011 target date, construction would have to start no later than August.
The 11-member foundation board will decide May 6 whether to begin construction this summer or wait until all — or most — of the $8.8 million is raised.
"I feel like they will make the right decision and move forward," he said. "But if you take a look at the current economic conditions and the difficulty in raising funds, the board might say that more money has to be raised before we start building."
The National Flight Academy's cost originally was estimated at $19.5 million but dropped $2 million, said Bill Greenhut, whose Greenhut Construction Co. is doing the design and building contracting. The costs of key building materials, such as steel and copper, are falling and subcontractors are charging less.
The academy would have dormitories, classrooms and a restaurant. Dormitories are to be outfitted to resemble aircraft carrier staterooms, and classes will be conducted in simulated ready rooms.
The academy is also working with the University of West Florida, the University of Central Florida, and the Andrews Institute to develop the program's curriculum, Hoewing said.
Hoewing said the sessions, for about 265 middle and high school students, will be 51/2 days. Each session will cost $895 per student, but scholarships will be available.
"My vision is that about half of the kids who attend the National Flight Academy are on some sort of scholarship," he said.