Renovation expected to be complete in February.
By Diana M. Sanchez
The Francis R. Scobee Planetarium at this college was closed in March 2012 to begin renovations for the new Challenger Center.
Dr. June Scobee-Rodgers will speak during the “topping out” ceremony at 9:30-11a.m. Thursday in front of the center.
The ceremony will commemorate the completion of the outside structure of the planetarium, a tradition to most large constructions.
The National Challenger Center, founded in 1986, is a nonprofit educational organization started by the families of the astronauts who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster on Jan 28 of that year.
Their vision was to continue the Challenger crew’s educational mission. Today, there are more than 40 learning centers in the U.S., Canada, South Korea and the United Kingdom.
The planetarium is expected to open by February 2014. The Challenger Center will open a few months later when it is fully operational.
Since then, planetarium related equipment and the observatory telescope have been moved into storage.
Events and programs have been postponed until renovations are completed.
The planetarium originally was expected to be completed by fall of this year.
“The mission of the Challenger Center has been changing with the retirement of the space shuttle fleet, and the technology that will be inside our new challenger center will be the latest technology from what we call the National Challenger Center,” planetarium Director Bob Kelley said. “Delays are to be expected and with any big, major remodeling issues.”
Kelley attends meetings with the architects every two weeks to iron out problems and check on the progress.
“As we speak, they are revising and building for us. We will have one of the first centers with the new look for mission control and for the space simulator,” Kelley said.
The mission control and space simulator is an interactive hands-on computerized simulator, which will give students the chance to participate in simulated space missions.
Originally constructed in 1961, the structure is expected to increase from 3,950 square feet to 21,519 square feet.
The Challenger Center will wrap around the existing planetarium. Kelley said the size of the planetarium theater dome will increase from 30 feet in diameter to 38 feet to make the sky look larger.
New seating and movie style reclining chairs with various angles of tilt and reclining ability will be added.
The planetarium will expand in seating to about 105 seats, compared to the old consortium seating.
“We would often let people in free for the worst seat. Now, we don’t have to do that. Everyone will be facing the best possible view,” Kelley said.
A new sound system and LED lighting will be incorporated into the center. The efficiency and the brightness of the lighting will enhance the upcoming shows, and displays of outer space.
In addition, restrooms will be added to the building, a common complaint in the old planetarium.
“We have never had our own restrooms. We have always used the restrooms in the CG building,” Kelley said.
Throughout the planetarium’s history, the chemistry and geology building remained open for students or the public to use the restroom facilities.
Costs for the new planetarium and Challenger Center in 2012 before construction began, was $7 million dollars — $5 million for construction and $2 million for endowment.
With the new developments of a gift shop, space station simulator and a mission control room, Kelley wants to recruit volunteers and use work-study students to increase staffing.
The staff in the previous planetarium consisted of three people: a director, assistant director and a secretary. Students also assisted with operating the telescope, service, ushering and ticket distribution.
The planetarium will resume evening and weekend events upon opening. Shows to look forward to are trips into outer space, a depiction of the sky, and star gazing.
“This is going to be a destination point for our community, our college and a location that we will be very proud of, that folks that are coming to the Alamo Colleges, to SAC and to our facilities, as we continue to explore outer space. It’s coming, and we hope you are too,” Kelley said.
For more information, visit the Scobee Planetarium Facebook page.