Some students to miss planetarium classes Repairs needed after vandalism

October 04, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

The planetarium at Aberdeen High School, which was virtually destroyed by vandals in August, probably won't be ready for use this school year because of the time needed to replace or repair the damaged equipment.

That means some Harford students, mostly middle and high school youngsters, will not be able to attend planetarium classes this year.

Dave Duchon, planetarium director for Aberdeen High School and Edgewood Middle School, said he is scheduling as many students as possible into the Edgewood planetarium. The county school system's other planetarium is at Southampton Middle School.

Eleven schools, or about 6,000 students, used the Aberdeen planetarium last year, Mr. Duchon said.

Children from the seven affected elementary schools can be accommodated at Edgewood, because their schedules are more flexible than middle school and high school youngsters, Mr. Duchon said. Students who will probably not be able to go to the planetarium are at the four secondary schools; about 1,054 students at Aberdeen High School, nearly 1,200 students at Aberdeen Middle School, about 517 students at Havre de Grace High School and about 518 students at Havre de Grace Middle School.

Aberdeen police Detective Kenneth Cox said police have several leads on the planetarium vandals, but so far do not have enough evidence to arrest anyone.

Early in the morning on Aug. 12, at least two people got into the planetarium by smashing a window and vandalizing two locked doors. Once inside, the criminals smashed the star projector, a delicate piece of machinery that formed the heart of the planetarium. The globe, which projects the stars and planets on the ceiling, was repeatedly struck by a baseball bat or a fire extinguisher, police said.

The same vandals broke another window to gain access to three science classrooms where they broke open jars of chemicals, which combined to emit clouds of pungent fumes; smashed science equipment; and turned on faucets, flooding floors, police said.

Robert S. Magee, principal at Aberdeen High School, said the school can replace broken science equipment but can't replace teacher materials, like dittos and notes, which were destroyed when the vandals broke open file cabinets and threw papers onto the flooded floor.

"Those files represented years and years of work, and nothing can replace the effort that went into that," he said.

Mr. Magee said it's difficult to schedule time for secondary students at another planetarium because they can potentially miss three or four classes because of the traveling distance between the schools and Edgewood.

James J. Bennett, principal at Havre de Grace High School, said cuts in the field trip budget this year is another reason his students will forgo a planetarium visit this year.

"We have a transportation problem. We don't have enough buses," he said. Mr. Bennett said his students will learn about astronomy and other subjects from books or looking at pictures.

Insurance is expected to cover most of the costs, said Albert F. Seymour, Harford County schools spokesman. He said the school system is negotiating with its insurance company on whether to replace the planetarium equipment or to repair as much as possible.

Replacing the equipment, which would include the star projector, operating console and ceiling, could cost as much as $300,000, said Mr. Magee, the Aberdeen High School principal.

For example, the domed, metal ceiling, on which the stars were projected, will probably have to be replaced for about $45,000. The vandals hurled slide projectors into the air, denting the ceiling in six places. The metal panels would be very difficult to repair and can't be replaced because the panels are so old.

The planetarium was installed in 1966 for about $85,000.

"Most of the manufacturers are either out of business or don't make those parts any more," said Ralph Lamenzo, customer service manager at Spitz Inc., in Chadds Ford, Pa., the builder of the original planetarium.

Mr. Lamenzo, who toured the damaged planetarium, said planetarium equipment must be custom-made for each site, a process that can take six months or longer. Repairs to equipment must be done at the company's headquarters.

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