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BLOOMINGTON - The Challenger Learning Center plans to embark on a broad fund-raising effort with Heartland Community College this summer.

Meanwhile, the center still is exploring whether to move to Heartland's Normal campus or stay in the old Central Illinois Regional Airport terminal.

The learning center, part of the Prairie Aviation Museum at the Bloomington airport, faces a financial "pothole" - about $900,000 of debt - but is determined to get back on its feet, said Cathy Bissoondial, museum board president.

"We want to work together with you to solve this problem," Bissoondial told the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority board Monday.

Fund-raising plans are in the beginning stages, and Bissoondial did not have any more details about the campaign.

The center can support itself in terms of day-to-day operations, but the museum has run into trouble paying off the $1.1 million loan for startup costs, Bissoondial said.

The center, which opened in 2003, is exploring the option of moving to Heartland in a few years, after its lease on the old airport terminal expires in 2010, Bissoondial said.

The Heartland board will hear a report today on the college administration's consideration of a proposal to bring the learning center to the college.

Heartland has agreed to help with fund raising this summer, regardless of whether it assumes oversight for the center.

In the meantime, the airport is willing to lend its support to the center, though what form that will take is yet to be determined, airport Executive Director Carl Olson said.

The airport plans to meet with the learning center's leaders in the near future and invited them to Monday's board meeting to get an update on the center's progress, Olson said.

The learning center is an asset to the community and the airport, Olson said.

"They're one of the jewels in the airport's crown," Olson said. "We'd very much like to see them here."

Airport officials see the center as an asset for the old terminal. The board voted in May to spend $1.12 million to renovate restaurant space for CJ's Restaurant.


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