Planetarium update

By Sydney Fairbanks

The Ward Beecher Planetarium is still waiting for repairs to be made since the Jan. 9 fire. A reopening date is still up in the air, but those involved are hoping for late 2024.

While the planetariums’ big ticket items — its video system and the Chronos GOTO Star Projector — are still intact, the planetarium is not yet ready to host shows for the public.

According to planetarium engineer, Curt Spivey, classes are still taking place while the design team, hired by Youngstown State University, draws up the repair plan.

“They’re looking over everything that needs to be done from the dome replacement, light replacement, the roof replacement on the outside, [to] fixing the electrical [and] fixing the speakers,” Spivey said. “They’re putting a comprehensive design plan together, then the design firm will hire the contractors that will come in and fix things.”

The department is estimating that repairs will exceed seven figures in cost and that insurance will pay for a large portion of that amount. The fire was caused by a subcontractor and the university’s insurance is already working with the subcontractors insurance. 

One major issue holding plans back is the need for a custom-made planetarium dome. 

With only two existing companies that produce domes for planetarium use, Spivey said he worries that if a new dome is not ordered within these next few months, the projected date will be pushed back even further. 

He estimates that the cove lighting system, which directs light into the dome, will be in a similar situation. The lights are not as custom as the dome, but the company is in high demand.

“I know those guys very well, they have been taking care of our lights for 15 years. They’re very very busy,” Spivey said.

Before shows can resume, the sound system will also need to be replaced. The seven speakers in the dome were ruined by water and to achieve proper sound balance, the two subwoofers and five other speakers must be ordered.

Additionally, water damage affected the display cases — one of which hosted a “History of the Ward Beecher Planetarium” display. All the pictures were thrown out, the glass has cracked and the bottom of the case has started to slump down. Two new cases will need to be put in and a new showcase will be designed.

Spivey said he’s hoping to see a lower dome for a more immersive experience as well as the addition of theater strip lights on the steps when the carpet is replaced.

Patrick Durrell, an astronomy professor and Ward Beecher Planetarium director, said once repairs begin, the planetarium will be shut down for months. In preparation, the department has other temporary classrooms to relocate students to during the repairs. 

“We won’t have the cool video system to use, but we will still be able to teach the cool astronomy stuff in classrooms,” Durrell said.

Once repairs are finished, the Astronomy Department has many plans for future planetarium shows. Durrell said he’s hopeful the repaired planetarium will be able to project images from the James Webb Telescope as well as work done on the Hubble Space Telescope done by Durrel and John Feldmeier, a YSU professor. 

For more information and updates, head to the Ward Beecher Hall Facebook page.