Challenger Learning Center agrees to Harrison Place lease - The Buffalo News

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Challenger Learning Center agrees to Harrison Place lease

LOCKPORT – The Challenger Learning Center, the local affiliate of a national chain of facilities aimed at getting youngsters interested in science, has agreed to a lease on space in Harrison Place.

R. Charles Bell, city director of planning and development, said last week that a 10-year lease has been agreed to, even though Challenger director Kathy Michaels, a retired schoolteacher, admitted her not-for-profit organization hasn’t lined up all of its funding.

It does have enough money, though, to make plans to open on New Year’s Eve, Michaels said.

The 10-year lease, with a five-year renewal clause, covers 7,900 square feet on the first floor of Building 1 of the four-building complex at Walnut and Washburn streets. Michaels said about 6,000 square feet will be used for the center; the remainder of the lease covers the rights to use common areas at the facility, which is the former Harrison Radiation Division plant.

“We got a very affordable lease payment,” Michaels said, but neither she nor Bell would disclose it. The building is not owned by the city, but by a private, albeit city-controlled, entity called 210 Walnut LLC.

Challenger has long had an office on the third floor of Building 2. “They’ve been a tenant, and a good one,” Bell said. “We’ve seen them making big strides.”

In late 2011, the state awarded a $260,000 grant for renovation of 6,000 square feet for Challenger, which was founded in the wake of the 1986 space shuttle explosion that killed the Challenger’s entire crew, including New Hampshire schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

The space-themed center has been seeking to open a permanent location in Lockport for the past seven years.

The original estimate for the center was $1.3 million, but that was trimmed after the center managed to purchase spacecraft and Mission Control simulators, from a Challenger location in Birmingham, Ala. It still cost $300,000.

“That saved half a million dollars,” Michaels said.

Michaels’ group still needs about $150,000, she said. Of that amount, $130,000 is the match for the state grant.

“I do feel pretty good about their ability to make the payments,” Bell said. “The big question is whether they’ll be able to upgrade the space to the level they’d like to see and we’d like to see.”

Besides field trips for school groups, Michaels said she plans to offer the center for corporate training, focusing on medical research for hospitals and laboratories. However, that portion of the facility will open after the space simulators.

One of the fundraising efforts is the annual raffle at the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration. “Every year for the last three years, the mayor has drawn the winning ticket,” Michaels said.

This year’s raffle prize is a week at any Wyndham resort in the United States, Mexico or the Caribbean. Only 1,000 tickets will be sold.

“It’s a members-only raffle,” Michaels said. Memberships, which start at $25, are available through the Challenger website at


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