The United States Air Force Academy will send out a request for proposals to start constructing the new visitors center, according to Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the superintendent of the service academy.
Johnson announced the update as part of the Academy’s third State of USAFA address, an event designed to improve communications between the institution and the local community.
She also announced construction projects that will start this year: The Academy’s entrance gates will receive a facelift, including covers that will keep guards from standing in rain, snow or hail. Those improvements, she said, could cause traffic issues at the two gates leading onto Academy grounds.
And the school’s long-closed planetarium, located outside the cadet area, will undergo renovations to operate as an education destination for students in southern Colorado, she said.
“It’s been under wraps for a while,” Johnson told the crowd. “But we’re going to open it as a STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] outreach center. We’ll also be giving the Field House some much-needed updates. When I started at the Academy in 1978, Sijan Hall was the ‘new dorm.’ That was in 1978. We’ve renovated Vandenberg Hall, so now we’re gong to focus on Sijan.”
She also said that the Academy will close its famed chapel in 2018 for renovations. The chapel is 53 years old, she said, and needs an update. And by 2019, the Academy will finish renovations to the library for an interim location for its CyberWorx program.
Johnson also highlighted academic and athletic success at the Academy. She said the cadet-run Falcon satellite program will launch Falcon Sat 6 on a SpaceX rocket “very soon.” Cadets in the Academy’s aerospace program build the Falcon satellites from design to finished product. The satellites contain experiments from other parts of the school. Falcon Sat 7, a project of the physics department, will launch shortly after Falcon Sat 6, she said.
But she acknowledged that the Academy has some work to do.
“We need to be better at communications,” she said. “We need to tell our story and we need to share that story with the community. We’ve let other people control the narrative for far too long.”
And the school is determined to have the “hard, uncomfortable conversations” about sexual assault.
“We have to talk about it,” she said. “Because it’s not who we are. We are creating leaders of character, and we respect people — no matter what they look like or where they come from. And we’re making strides.”