Having been saved from the wrecking ball by a community outpouring of support and fundraising, the David M. Brown Planetarium reopened Sept. 28 to serve as a beacon for Arlington students for generations to come.
“This is about the future – about young children,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th), one of the speakers at a rededication ceremony at the planetarium, located on North Quincy Street between Washington-Lee High School and the Arlington Education Center.
The event came two and a half years after Superintendent Patrick Murphy proposed shutting down the 45-year-old facility, suggesting it was dilapidated and didn’t serve a viable purpose in a high-tech world.
School officials didn’t foresee the public outcry that would follow, as parents and members of the broader community rallied around the facility and raised nearly a half-million dollars toward the $900,000 renovation cost.
“Our entire community faced down a challenge and achieved a worthy goal – we are all friends of science education, friends of inspiration,” said Alice Monet, who leads the Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium organization.
The renovation project included replacement of the projector, lighting, seats and dome; asbestos removal; and improvements to carpeting, plumbing and mechanical systems. The planetarium was closed to the public as work progressed.
The dedication ceremony, which drew about 100 community leaders, was set to be followed by a weekend of activities for the public.
School Board Chairman Emma Violand-Sanchez said the planetarium – one of a shrinking number across the region – serves as a “unique asset,” and that the community efforts to save it reflect “a true partnership.”
Rather than look back at the contentiousness of the issue, Violand-Sanchez had a two-word request: “Let’s celebrate!”
In his remarks, Moran noted that the planetarium would serve as a visible symbol of the county’s commitment to science and technology education. He referenced nearby facilities, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Science Foundation, located within walking distance.
“Arlington has now become an epicenter, if not the epicenter, of science and technology research,” Moran said.
The ceremony also was a chance to remember U.S. Navy Capt. David Brown, a graduate of local schools (including Yorktown High School) who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. In 2008, the school system renamed the planetarium in his honor.
William Readdy, himself a former astronaut, said the planetarium was “probably the most fitting memorial” to Brown.
“It will continue to inspire the next generation of explorers. Dave would have wanted it that way,” Readdy said.
At the ceremony, Monet announced that her group had created the David M. Brown Scholarship Fund, to support higher education among Arlington students who major in science at the college level. The first scholarship will be presented next spring, with the fund managed by the Arlington Community Foundation.
Superintendent Patrick Murphy has developed a plan to have all kindergarten students visit the planetarium at least once this year, with other students attending programs there as well.
Monet made a simple request: Keep the kids coming, and keep the programs entertaining.
“Everyone learns best when they are having fun,” she said.
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