The hallways are empty and smell like wet paint now, but in a few short weeks “The Academy” at Fairhope’s Sonny Callahan Airport will be filled with Baldwin County high school students.
Construction crews are currently putting finishing touches on the building, while equipment remains wrapped in clear plastic. The academy will be open to students in January.
In the building’s three classrooms and labs, students will be better educated in welding, aviation and industrial maintenance, Fairhope Airport Authority board member Charlie Bassett said.
Plans for the academy have been in the works since 2006, with construction beginning last year. It is a joint project between the school system, the airport authority and the city of Fairhope.
“We discovered there was a need for this kind of thing,” he said. “We feel like there’s a huge demand.”
The demand is so great that there’s room on the property to add another building and expand in the future, Bassett said. While the airport authority owns the land and the building, Baldwin County Public Schools leased it for a lump sum payment of $2.7 million, which paid for the building’s construction. Bassett said the authority was just looking to break even on the deal.
“We’re not trying to make money,” Bassett said. “We’re trying to provide a service.”
Faulkner State Community College and Enterprise Community College will teach the three courses provided at the school, through a dual enrollment agreement. Students who attend class at the academy will be eligible to receive both high school and college credits.
Enterprise will teach the aviation class, while Faulkner will teach the industrial maintenance and welding classes.
Bassett said the school would be beneficial to Airbus, BAE, Austal and other employers in the area. Bassett said Faulkner has shown an interest in holding adult education classes at the location, in addition to dual enrollment for high school students.
“This facility and the trained workers who come out of it will help attract business here in the future,” Bassett said. “This is career training for students who … for whatever reason, won’t be able to go to a four-year college.”
Future development is a goal for the authority, as the group still has 70 undeveloped acres to the west of the airport where because of the topography, can’t be used for future taxiway access, Bassett said.