Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Aviation Academy in Newport News is moving. Here’s why

The entrance to Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport in Newport News. (WYDaily file)
The entrance to Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport in Newport News. (WYDaily file)

The Aviation Academy is moving to Denbigh High School after the Peninsula Airport Commission decided not to renew a building lease with Newport News Public Schools.

The program teaches piloting, aircraft maintenance, engineering and aviation security/safety to ninth graders, who have access from a set of drones and a 3D printer to a virtual reality lab and a wind tunnel, according to the brochure.

Students take an FAA Pilot Ground School course to prepare them for flying lessons and licensure.

The brochure also noted those who choose the Technology pathway option have the opportunity to help build an RV-12 plane as well as lockers for the International Space Station.

Now the school district plans to relocate the program before the 2020-2021 school year.

“Students can still go over to the airport for a couple classes such as maintenance hands-on type of things, but the actual classes will now be at Denbigh High School,” said Michelle Price, spokeswoman for Newport News Public Schools.

The plan is to build out part of the school and add eight modular classrooms and a hallway, Price said.

City Council recently reallocated $174,465 in unspent capital funds from previous modular classroom projects to help pay for the Aviation Academy’s move from Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport to Denbigh High School.

On Wednesday, City Council approved the re-appropriation of $333,194 to the school division for the cost of moving the Aviation Academy to Denbigh High School.

“The State requires any revenues Newport News Public Schools receives in a fiscal year that are not spent in that year to be re-appropriated by the City Council so the funds can be carried forward into the next fiscal year,” according to the city’s news release. “For FY 2019, the recently completed fiscal year, the State Revenue to Schools exceeded the budgeted amount by $73,998 due to higher than expected enrollment.”

“If the funds are not re-appropriated by City Council, they are then required to be returned to the State,” according to the news release.

The school district will continue to lease the hangar at the airport, but courses like English, math and science which were previously done at the airport building will now be at the high school.

“The long-term plan is to go back to the airport,” Price said, adding the district is just adjusting for the next school year.

The STEM magnet school has been leasing the building at the airport since 1995. The school district started leasing the airport hangar in 2006.

What happened

The airport commission and the school district had been trying to negotiate a new lease for the building since May 2018, Price said.

At a school board work session in Nov. 2019, a PowerPoint presentation detailed the timeline of the school’s negotiations with the airport and future plans for the Aviation Academy.

On Sept. 25, 2019, the commission wanted to discuss the environmental report, a future lease agreement and when to terminate occupancy in the building, according to the PowerPoint.

Two days later, the school district’s plant services identified building issues including mold and removing and replacing the ceiling tile and dry wall.

The PowerPoint presentation showed pictures of the building’s rusted roof, holes in the ceiling and white residue on blue bricks walls. And while the building space being leased was 27,837 square feet, only 16,204 square feet was actually being used. (Story continues after the photo gallery)

Ultimately, the decision to move the aviation program was because of maintenance costs and not reaching a lease agreement.

“PAC leases must adhere to FAA guidelines which is not in NNPS’s best interest given the age and condition of the building,” the presentation noted.

The school board presentation added it would continue to negotiate with the airport to find a future location for the academy and will work with the city manager to identify private investment to fund facility construction.

Price said the school was responsible for the building’s maintenance fees and it was getting rather costly.

Last year’s annual lease cost the school district $91,000, she noted.

“That lease required the Peninsula Airport Commission to pay for each repair that cost over $5,000 and NNPS was responsible for all maintenance below that limit,” Price wrote in an email. “This school year (2019-2020), NNPS is not paying the lease costs because the school division has had to take responsibility for all maintenance costs.”

She said the costs for maintenance fees through November 2019 were $316,000.

The school district spent $448,000 on maintenance costs from FY 2009 to FY 2018.

When asked to elaborate further about the lease, Price referred WYDaily to the PAC.

Airport response

Jenifer Spratley, spokeswoman for the Peninsula Airport Commission, said the building was not “tenantable” and the decision not to renew the lease was mutual.

“We are merely landlords,” she said. “We continue to work with the school district to sponsor a new school.”

Spratley could not confirm if the school district was still leasing the airport hangar and if they were paying for the building maintenance costs.

“I’d really like to just stick with the information I shared with you,” she said.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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