Challenger Learning Center closes its doors

Posted at: 01/17/2014 6:25 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

New Mexico school kids have just lost a treasure – and most of them never knew it was there.

Albuquerque’s Challenger Learning Center has closed. Named after the space shuttle lost in a tragic explosion back in the 1980s, the learning center has done its final mission. Founders Al and Susan Unser have pulled the plug.

“It’s something that we hated to do, and still do right now,” said Unser, the auto racing legend. “The finances are just not there. We thought we could do it and have it turn around and at least break even, but it didn’t.”

The Unsers started the learning center four years ago, and it was all about space flight. Kids got a hands-on experience on a simulated mission to a space station, learning lessons in science, engineering and math.

“When they came in with an attitude of – ehhh – it’s just another field trip, by the time they leave they’re psyched – it’s 'I could be an astronaut',” Susan Unser said.

But most public schools, even here in Albuquerque, didn’t pony up for the field trips that were really science lessons. APS and the state Public Education department didn’t buy into it. The Unsers were left holding the bag after spending at least a half a million dollars just to keep the learning center going – not to mention what it cost to start it.

“We built the building especially for this and, gosh, it didn’t happen,” Unser said. “You know you can’t survive forever on a negative basis.”

The 20,000 square foot building will remain on the Unser Discovery campus on Montano Road, where the Unser Racing Museum is. All of the furnishings and the gear in the learning center belong to the village of Los Ranchos, the Unsers said. They’re hoping somebody else with deeper pockets can take over the mission, maybe a big aerospace museum somewhere. Anybody got a cell number for Bill Gates?