Orange County’s Only Planetarium Reopens After Renovations

planetarium sign
President Erlinda Martinez cuts the ribbon at the opening of the planetarium, March 17. / Emilio Rodriguez / el Don
President Erlinda Martinez cuts the ribbon at the opening of the planetarium, March 17. / Emilio Rodriguez / el Don


By Edson Valenzuela and Jose Servin

Orange County’s only planetarium is back in orbit.

President Erlinda Martinez and Trustee Claudia Alvarez cut the ceremonial ribbon March 17, unveiling the $4.9 million facility that also houses the new Veterans Resource Center.

Tessmann Planetarium closed for renovation in 2013. The district allocated about $2 million from the remainder of Measure E, a $337 million voter-approved measure, Peter Hardash vice chancellor of business operations and fiscal services, said in a 2013 interview.

Setbacks, including a termite infestation, pushed completion past the original deadline of late 2014. Construction crews added a new roof, heating, ventilating and air conditioning system and reupholstered seats in the projection room. Outside, new overhangs help protect people from sun and rain. Four space-themed light board murals add color to the otherwise gray building.

The renovation was motivated by a bathroom shortage on campus, Hardash said in 2013. Previously, planetarium visitors had to use those in Russell Hall.

Built in 1967, about 20,000 school children from around the county visit Tessmann every year, Planetarium Coordinator Bob Menn said.

SAC sophomore Aaron Magaña remembers standing under Tessmann’s dome during a field trip in second grade.

“You could actually look at the stars with your family, where sometimes you can’t unless you drive very far,” Magaña said.

SAC freshman Luis Hernandez volunteers at Heroes Elementary School in Santa Ana. His first trip to a show in Tessmann will be in June, when he’ll chaperone students.

“I think it’s pretty important for them because they get to see something different that they haven’t experienced before and it’s local,” Hernandez said.

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The project’s completion comes as the college prepares for its centennial celebrations.

“We built it so it lasts not 100 years, but a thousand years,” Board President Larry Labrado said.

Menn was perhaps more realistic. “If we take care of it, we might get it to last at least 50 more years,” Menn estimated realistically.

Astronomy professor Steve Eastmond and Menn previewed A Tour of Our Solar System, a new show that opens April 13.

“We are not just citizens of earth, we are citizens of the solar system,” said Menn as the lights dimmed in the projector room and stars illuminated the planetarium’s ceiling.

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