by Fred Seely
Politicians and educators turned out Tuesday to take a look at the city’s newest center of education: an airplane hangar.
“When the base closures came down,” said State Sen. Jim King, “we were given Cecil Field. A pile of lemons.
“But people got together and realized that the decision [to close the Navy base] wasn’t going to be changed, so they said, ‘Let’s try and make lemonade.’ ”
The work led to Tuesday, when Florida Community College at Jacksonville formally dedicated the multi-million dollar Aviation Center of Excellence, a hangar full of classroom work, a large area covered with donated airplanes, including a Boeing 727 — and a separate classroom and administration building.
U.S. representatives Cliff Stearns and Corrine Brown were there, as were the Cecil Commerce Center’s area elected officials, Sen. Steve Wise, Rep. Mike Hogan and City Council member Alberta Hipps.
FCCJ president Steve Wallace, called by King “the best community college president I’ve ever met,” and most of the college leadership were there, as was Jacksonville Economic Development Commission director Kirk Wendland, Chamber president Wally Lee and his executive vice president, Jerry Mallot, FCCJ Foundation president Kevin Delaney and Fire Chief Ray Alfred.
Students will use the hangar for training and will be able to virtually build any airplane. The hanger floor has numerous work benches interspersed with giant jet engines, wheel assemblies and fuselage parts.
The second floor has other training devices, including an airplane flight simulator.
“You are a leading edge here,” said Stearns.
Brown added, “I’m even prouder because I was an employee of FCCJ for 16 years. I know what can be done through the college. This facility will give us the technology to train people in aviation; with the military presence here, we’re going to be able to find jobs for a lot of people.”