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Aeronautics college on track with expansion

Mid-stream in a major five-year strategic development plan, the College of Aeronautics is on a flight path that likely will take it to a far-off destination while staying right at home.

In September, the Elmhurst institution will change its name to the Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, both a nod to George Vaughn, one of the storied school’s founders, and its expanding academic focus.

“(Vaughn) is what ties us forever to our aviation roots,” said President John Fitzpatrick.

But looking to the future, the college that since the 1930s has occupied a site overlooking LaGuardia Airport hopes to create a satellite campus at another airport location, Fitzpatrick said.

“We are interested in remaining in Queens for the future,” said Fitzpatrick, who added that the college had contemplated but discarded a site in Long Island. “Our focus right now is to keep everything right here in the borough.”

With only one other airport in Queens, the college has its sights set on Kennedy Airport for what will become its primary aviation maintenance training campus, Fitzpatrick said. He said the facility, known as an Aviation Training Institute, would have the capacity for some 400 daytime and evening students.

The expansion forms part of a five-year development program initiated in March 2001 aimed at strengthening and diversifying the college’s academic and maintenance programs while bolstering admissions. Fitzpatrick said he expects the current enrollment of about 1,400 students to climb as high as 2,000 when the plan is complete.

Meanwhile, when the satellite campus opens — possibly as early as this summer — Fitzpatrick said the LaGuardia site will focus almost exclusively on the college’s expanding academic offerings, which already include nearly 20 bachelor’s and associate degrees.

The idea is to create “two distinct centers of learning bound by a common vision,” according to the plan.

Already, Fitzpatrick said, the college boasts an impressive track record: 90 percent of students obtain jobs in their chosen field within six months. “That’s the story we have to tell,” he said. “Our graduates don’t look for jobs, jobs look for them.”

As part of the development program, the college is looking to build a 100- to 200-bed housing facility on a spot adjacent to the LaGuardia campus. By offering housing, something the school has not done in the past, the college will be able to shift to “regional recruiting rather than local recruiting,” Fitzpatrick said.

Most students hail from within a 50-mile radius of the LaGuardia campus, although public affairs director Helene Brooks said the school does offer students from further afield assistance with finding housing. The college had more than 60 international students in the 2001-2002 academic year.

Still, she said, “it’s not dorm life as you know it.”

New construction at the LaGuardia site won’t overshadow major renovations on portions of the circa-1930s complex that were passed over in a 35,000-square-foot addition completed in 1998. Coming on the heels of a 1996 curriculum redesign, which for the first time offered a bachelor of science and an associate degree in flight, the physical expansion included state-of-art, camera-equipped distance-learning classrooms and a 65-foot observation tower.

Now the LaGuardia campus building that Mayor Fiorello La Guardia helped to bring in, will be getting new windows, heating and ventilation systems and updates to the classroom and laboratory space. Fitzpatrick said plans also include the creation of a new cafeteria, a 400-person auditorium that would extend toward 23rd Avenue and a new library, which would like the observation tower be open to the public.

“Clearly a library would be a great asset to the community,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are proud of the relationship we have with the community (and) the relationship we have with Queens.”

The college will host an open house Saturday and so far, Brooks said, more than 300 people have said they plan to attend.

Fitzpatrick said he could not put a price tag on the total development project. But at least part of the updates to the college’s LaGuardia facility will be financed out of a $3 million to $5 million grant from the Port Authority’s noise abatement program, he said.

“They’re really doing a great job working with us,” Fitzpatrick said of the Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration that distributes the funds.

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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