By: Yesenia Varela
Orange County’s only planetarium shuts its doors until the spring for a $2-million facelift.
Starting in November, professors, students and local elementary school teachers will have to wait until next spring to visit Tessman Planetarium.
The facility, Orange County’s only planetarium, will close for renovation. It was built in 1967 and has not been updated since.
The work was prompted by the campus’ shortage of restrooms, said Peter Hardash, vice chancellor of business operations and fiscal services. Visitors must use the restrooms in Russell Hall. The new stalls will be available for the entire campus.
Construction costs of about $2 million will come from remaining Measure E funds, Hardash said.
“The building is 50 years old, or pretty close, so it’s in need of some repairs,” Science Lab Coordinator Bob Menn said, adding that last December the roof started accumulating water that froze into ice.
New bathrooms on the south side of the building, an emergency exit, and a refurbished lobby
are part of the planned construction this year.
In addition, a new overhang to protect children from rainy weather, and four space-themed light boards resembling murals will hang outside the planetarium.
The renovations are part of ongoing projects set to be completed in time for the college’s centennial anniversary in 2015.
During construction, Tessmann Planetarium employees will update existing shows and create new ones about recently discovered planets, said Cheryl Carrera, interim dean of science, mathematics and health sciences.
“What we don’t know is if there will be constant construction, or windows of time where we can have shows,” said Planetarium Director Stephen Eastman, adding that December’s The Star of Bethlehem show, which recreates the sky on the night of Christ’s birth, is among the planetarium’s most popular shows.
The six interactive shows draw about 20,000 visitors a year, mostly from local elementary schools.
Students learn about the solar system as well as about lighting and 3-D effects, said Ginger Silverman, a second and third grade teacher at Panorama Elementary School.
Visiting the planetarium reinforces classroom lessons, said Susana Garcia, an astronomy student who prefers to learn visually.
“The planetarium offered me a different way of learning astronomy,” Garcia said.
The star projector recreates the sky from any point in history as lab coordinators answer questions during shows.
“There’s a lot you can do here that you can’t do on the blackboard. It really is a precious tool,” said Eastman, adding that lessons taught in the classrooms come to life in the planetarium.