Superintendent Plans Reprieve for Planetarium
The dome of the David M. Brown Planetarium can be seen in front of the Arlington Education Center.

[Updated to include comments from Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium.]

The Arlington school system’s David M. Brown Planetarium could be closed for a year or more in 2020-21 as construction takes place to turn the adjacent Arlington Education Center into classroom space.

Closing the planetarium for the duration of the construction project “is the intent,” said John Chadwick, the county school system’s construction czar, during an Aug. 2 presentation to School Board members.

The planetarium, located along North Quincy Street, dates to the 1960s. In 2010, Superintendent Patrick Murphy – in what was a rookie mistake for the new schools’ chief – proposed closing the facility to save funds, a move that provoked a community outcry.

Eventually, School Board members agreed to keep the facility open, with a non-profit group providing financial support for programming.

“We’re trying to find some way they will be able to continue their programs in the year or so it will be closed,” Chadwick said.

That was a positive development, according to School Board Vice Chairman Tannia Talento.

“We have a lot of community members who care about that,” she said.

James Gartner, vice president of Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium, said the superintendent’s office has been proactive in working with the group.

“We are continuing to work with APS on determining how long the planetarium may not be available to the community, how APS might use that opportunity to provide needed improvements to the planetarium’s infrastructure, and how the Friends can continue to produce shows, talks, and STEM-related activities for both students and the public in other APS spaces during the closure,” Gartner told the Sun Gazette.

The closing will be a blow to the organization, but Gartner said he understood the reasons it had to close temporarily.

“Initially, we had hoped the planetarium would remain open throughout construction,” he said. “However, it is tied into the Ed Center building’s systems and would require its own electricity, heat, and other basic support to operate independently.”

In 2008, the School Board named the planetarium in honor of David Brown, a 1974 Yorktown High School graduate who went on to become a physician, U.S. Navy aviator and astronaut. Brown was among those killed in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry.

School officials currently estimate the construction project to turn the Education Center into classroom space will kick off in the summer of 2020. The reconfigured building is slated to be ready for occupancy in September 2021.