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Is STEM Jet preparing for take-off? PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 October 2017 11:11

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City officials meet with Air Museum Foundation to work out details



By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



The FedEx STEM jet sitting on the tarmac at the Mid-America Air Museum has been the source of some recent controversy.

Wednesday, the Liberal City Commission hosted a special meeting between that board, the MAAM Foundation and leaders with the Liberal Fire Department to help resolve some of the issues concerning the jet.

Mayor Joe Denoyer began the meeting by outlining what was going to happen with Wednesday’s meeting.

“It’s been a few years since this has landed,” he said. “We had the grand opening or the arrival ceremony of the STEM jet. There’s been  a few delays in getting this off the ground. Hopefully, tonight, we will have a meeting to discuss some things to where we can hopefully get this thing utilized as the foundation so desires.”

Liberal Fire Chief Kelly Kirk, along with city code inspector Cody Regier, building inspector Kevin Kirk and deputy fire chief Skeety Poulton, would later run through a checklist of items that Kelly Kirk said is just part of what needs to be inspected to properly inspect a plane for its usage.

The fire chief, though, prior to that, would make some remarks about those guidelines and the controversy surrounding the plane.

“Our purpose here is to discuss the STEM jet project,” he said. “This is a project that seems it’s ebbed and flowed since the plane got here in 2014. Prior to the recent primary election and after that, it’s become a very controversial issue.”

Kelly said after the plane landed in 2014, there was little controversy about it until earlier this year.

“Up till June of this year, I didn’t think we were doing anything from the fire department’s standpoint,” he said. “We were kind of waiting  to talk to (the MAAM Foundation) again. I know a tremendous amount of work and effort has been put into this on behalf of the foundation, and I hope that you trust that a tremendous amount of work has gone into it on  behalf of the fire department and the building department trying to research this. It’s our duty to research this and our duty to look out for public safety. It’s what we do. It’s our job.”

Kelly then talked about recent articles on the Leader & Times opinion page, which claimed the state fire marshal had given the MAAM foundation the go ahead to use the plane as an educational tool, but that the city’s fire department had put the project on hold.

“Due in no small part to, I would say, inaccurate, misleading and sensationalized information that came out in the newspaper this summer, a public meeting like this in front of the commission like this, I feel like that’s our only avenue to get things started moving forward,” he said. “This is without a doubt one of the most unique, but at the same time, complex undertakings in the entire nation. This will be probably, in my opinion, the third functioning learning jet in the country.”

Kelly said both the city and the MAAM Foundation are completely behind the project, but regardless of the use of the plane, issues will still exist

“We support the concept of the STEM jet and learning jet, but I know it’s going to be a  bone of contention regardless of whether we call it an airplane, regardless of whether we call  it a building or structure or facility,” he said. “It’s a public venue, and it’s going to be visited by the general public who come into this with an idea that ‘I’m safe here because people have  done their jobs and made it so.’ There are going to be safety requirements, ADA requirements and minimum codes that are going to have to be looked into and addressed for this to go forward just for the safety of the men, women and children who are going to use this thing.”

The first item on the checklist presented Wednesday concerned having construction documents prepared by a design professional. Kelly addressed that issue before he and the other fire officials went through the checklist.

“With almost any project, we need a set of plans that shows us what your vision is for the end project, and we don’t have that,” he said. “Those would have to come from a design professional, engineer or architect.”

Following the checklist presentation, Kelly revisited the issue of who was in charge of inspecting the STEM jet for use.

“We thought you guys were working with the state fire marshal’s office,” he said referring to the MAAM Foundation. “We kind of got blindsided Oct. 4 when the state fire marshal’s office handed it back to us and said, ‘This is on you guys.’ We just really didn’t know what to do.”

MAAM Foundation President Bill Lyddon said he, too, believed everything was being done correctly prior to this summer.

“We got the airplane in,” he said. “We got the project going. We got building permits. We had electrical inspections. We thought we were doing our end of it okay too. I think there’s some confusion on both sides. We thought we were complying with all the necessary regulations with the permits and inspections. We got all them, and we’re ready to open up. We ran into a halt.”

Lyddon then questioned the fire leaders about some of the items on the list, and the attitude of both the fire officials and the MAAM board seemed to be one of cooperation to make things happen.

Following those exchanges, Denoyer made some further remarks, mainly that a lot of headway had been made with Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think we’ve got a very doable project,” he said. “It sounds like a lot of the checklist has already been completed, and our staff is willing to work to get a solution to get this thing up and running. I commend you guys for working with this and what you guys have already done. Now, if we can just come together and get this thing off the ground, not literally. I think it’s a doable project.”

Denoyer likewise praised the efforts of all those on hand for Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think this is an excellent project, and I commend the Mid-America Air Museum Foundation and the staff for finally getting together on the same page, and hopefully, we can get this thing off and running,” he said.

Denoyer said the cooperation to make the STEM jet a reality does not stop at just the MAAM Foundation and the city.

“We’re one community,” he said. “We all need to work together for the betterment of our community, whether it’s the STEM jet, whether it’s an economic development project. You do better when you work together.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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