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Commission wants educational airport

Commissioners awarded a month-to-month contract Thursday to Lawrence County Airpark director Jay Conley, making him the airport’s fixed-base operator (FBO) – the position formerly held by the Lawrence County Educational Service Center.

Friday, September 03, 1999

Commissioners awarded a month-to-month contract Thursday to Lawrence County Airpark director Jay Conley, making him the airport’s fixed-base operator (FBO) – the position formerly held by the Lawrence County Educational Service Center.

The service center board voted July 26 to discontinue its lease because of continuing liability and legal difficulties.

Educators had planned to operate the airpark as a landing strip and an educational center for youth and adults by forming partnerships with area schools and accepting some tuition funds.

But after six months of legal wrangling, the board received official word from the state auditor’s office that it could not spend any money on airplanes and other equipment, county superintendent Harold Shafer said.

"When you get into that kind of situation, how can you own an airport?" Shafer said. "We got into a situation where we couldn’t convince the state that doing it on a permanent basis was OK."

Now, because area universities and technical schools are still interested in hosting classes at the airpark, the county is searching for a way to continue the education plan, commission president Bruce Trent said.

The $2,500 per month contract with Conley is a temporary measure until the commission finalizes such a plan and receives advice from the county prosecutor on what the county’s legal responsibilities are with the airpark, Trent said.

Commissioner George Patterson indicated the county might sign a group of operators to the next lease.

"It would be like it was when the service center operated it except it would be private, non-profit," Patterson said.

That idea fits with ideas the service center put forth when board members first approached the county about dropping the lease.

The center met with commissioners several times to detail the school board’s five-year airport plan and discuss options, Shafer said.

"The commission can get another FBO to run the place or someone to run it like we wanted or allow a group to operate it as a 501(c)3," he said. "We didn’t fail. You have to try new things. And we still think it’s a good idea, but it’s their decision."

Schools that were going to offer aviation programs with the service center’s help, like Collins Career Center, Shawnee State University and others, still want to hold classes at the airpark, Shafer said.

Those schools didn’t pull out and more than 50 potential students remain interested, he added.

"We can’t do it because we can’t spend any money on it," Shafer said. "But colleges, universities and the vocational school can."

Legislators could have sought changes to the law, allowing the school board to continue, but it opted to go another route because such changes in law would affect so many things across the state, he said.

"To me, it can be a great opportunity for the Tri-State area, especially with the many jobs available in the aviation industry," he said. "It would’ve made use of something that just kind of sits there."