Planetarium in search of space to call its own 19-foot-tall dome won't be moving to Centennial High

June 30, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County's last planetarium won't be going to Centennial High School, but it may not get thrown away, either.

The Howard County school board Thursday night denied a request by Centennial High School's science faculty to put the planetarium in the Ellicott City school, but left open the possibility that the dome could be installed elsewhere in the county.

"We cannot afford to dedicate two classrooms at Centennial to this because they are desperately needed for the students who are coming" into the school, said board member Sandra French.

The planetarium could be installed in the Howard County School of Technology on Route 108, board members said. The school is set to undergo renovations this summer and next year, and will be renamed the Applications and Research Laboratory.

The planetarium consists of a 19-foot-tall dome and specialized projection system that teachers can use to display the night sky and point out specific star patterns. The size of the dome requires the space of about two classrooms. The dome now sits in Wilde Lake Middle School, unused since budget cuts eliminated the county's last astronomy teaching position in 1991. The room with the dome in it has been converted into much-needed classroom space. School officials need to decide what to do with the planetarium soon because Wilde Lake Middle is being renovated this summer and next summer.

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When Patapsco Middle School -- the former home of the county's only other planetarium -- underwent similar renovations last year, the astronomy room was converted into a computer lab and the planetarium disappeared, probably ending up in a county landfill.

Centennial's science teachers and parents offered to take in Wilde Lake's planetarium at their school, saying that keeping at least one planetarium in the county was essential to a well-rounded science education. A new unit costs $200,000 or more, and they estimated that moving it to their school would cost only about $50,000.

Centennial also will be seeking to renovate its science laboratories next summer as part of Maryland's "Look of Future High School Science Program." The school's teachers will be applying for a state grant this year to modernize the science classrooms, and they had sought permission to include plans to install the planetarium, said Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.

But Cousin recommended against moving it to Centennial, saying the size of the dome might force the school system to raise the height of the one-story building's roof -- likely making the project prohibitively expensive.

Cousin also suggested that the school board decide not to move the planetarium anywhere, saying that the "equipment is old and antiquated and very difficult to repair." Agreed board member Karen Campbell: "This is only a bargain if it works."

But other board members said they didn't want to commit to throwing away the planetarium until it was necessary.

Pub Date: 6/30/96

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