By John Cox
Since the Jan. 9 fire, the Ward Beecher Planetarium was closed while the extent of the damage was assessed, costs tabulated and a timeline for the future established.
Planetarium Engineer Curt Spivey said in addition to the fire, water damage required key parts to be replaced.
“We were early adopters of the system from a company called ChromaCove. They have evolved so many generations past our system that they won’t be able to replace what got damaged,” Spivey said.
When the Youngstown Fire Department used hoses to put out the flames, water spread throughout the planetarium and damaged the 55-year-old dome.
“Even if we were able to save the dome, it would have to get out of the way for them to fix the roof behind. We’ve had a couple experts look at the dome and it’s probably going to have to be replaced,” Spivey said. “When the new dome goes in, it will look radically different than it looks now. The dome will be a little bit lower,”
Spivey also said there were about three to four inches of water in the room once it was accessible.
With the planetarium closed for up to a year according to Spivey, all shows — for schools and for the general public — are canceled.
Astronomy classes were being taught in other classrooms, which professors found to be a challenge in fully immersing students in the material compared to the setting and technology the planetarium offers.
Astronomy professor Patrick Durrell said the alternate environments detract from the impact of lessons.
“Our courses are designed for the planetarium. We project onto the big screen and show full-dome videos about some of the wonderful things in the universe. Moving to a normal classroom with a smaller projector and screen — you lose some of that,” Durrell said.
The planetarium was opened back up for classes Feb. 17, albeit with the lights and dome still damaged.
“We moved some of our smaller classes in there as a trial run and we let people know that it’s not 100%, but let’s see if we can make this a better experience for everybody,” Durrell said.
Classes will continue in the planetarium until the end of the semester while repairs start.
YSU’s insurance will cover most of the damages, but Spivey believes not everything that needs to be taken care of will be able to be covered, such as the seats.
“The seats in there are 15-years-old, but if the dome comes down the seats have to come out. Fifteen year old seats going back in might not be an option,” Spivey said. “We might have to foot the bill and buy new seats, but that’s a maybe.”
For more information and updates, refer to the Ward Beecher Planetarium’s Facebook page.