Fire on the first day

Fire crews battle fire at Ward Beecher Planetarium. Photo by Molly Burke/The Jambar

By Elizabeth Coss

The first day back for students at Youngstown State University saw classes canceled in Ward Beecher Hall after a fire broke out around 12:30 p.m. 

Roofing crews were attempting to patch the lower part of Ward Beecher Planetarium’s roof with a torch when a fire became uncontrolled. 

YSU personnel evacuated the building when the fire broke out, and students and faculty were notified with email and text alerts as the Youngstown Fire Department responded. 

According to YFD’s Battalion Chief, Jimmy Drummond, fire crews initially struggled to get to the fire because of the metal roof. 

“It was just hard getting to it and getting a hole cut in the metal roof from the outside, and try to get [the fire] before it ran up, but it had already run up vertically by the time we got here. We were able to hold it from the east side of the planetarium,” Drummond said. 

Drummond also said damage was extensive to the building’s exterior and an outsourced company will work on evaluating what remains. 

“Probably millions of dollars worth of electronics and stuff inside there. We covered all the projectors that we could with tarps and plastic … they got a company coming out now to patch the roof and to at least cover it for a night before repairs can start,” Drummond said. 

YFD’s Jimmy Drummond pointing to removed roof.
Photo by Elizabeth Coss / The Jambar

Fire crews have since removed most of the damaged roof on the planetarium’s east side. Both YSU police and the Youngstown Police Department were on the scene. 

A class was in progress with almost 90 students at the time, and at least five classes were scheduled to be taught in the planetarium. There were no injuries.  

Curt Spivey, the engineer for the planetarium, said he’s worried about the damage the planetarium’s interior may have sustained. 

“The good news is, it appears our two major systems, our star-ball and video system, they appear to be pretty much intact,” Spivey said. “The bad news is, we’re not 100% sure if the dome can be saved. It’s 55-years-old, it took a lot of water damage. If the dome has to come down and be replaced, we could be down for quite a while.”

Spivey said most of the equipment inside was salvaged, but the roof will need to be completely redone, and because the dome sustained heavy damage, the planetarium is looking at companies to replace the current one. 

ServPro will be cleaning smaller issues inside the building such as water damage and debris. Seats, carpets and lighting equipment will likely be replaced because of heavy water damage.

The planetarium and its dome were built in 1967 and went under renovations in 2006 and 2017. Spivey said all planetarium events will be postponed until further notice. 

“Our public schedule is a wash now for a while, and we were just getting back. We lost a lot of our schedule last January due to Omicron, this January we have a fire,” Spivey said. “We’re very disappointed in what this means for the Mahoning Valley.”

Students were notified classes would resume in Ward Beecher Hall the following day, Jan. 10, but the Jones Hall loading dock and disability spaces will remain closed for approximately one week. 

Alternate locations for students with classes in the planetarium have been arranged and are expected to be back in person by Jan. 13.