Science Museum’s Hopkins Planetarium Reaches for The Stars

Science MuseumJim Rollings, executive director of the Science Museum of Western Virginia announced that on March 15 they closed their temporary Tanglewood Mall location as they begin the move back to the renovated Center in the Square. A Grand Reopening is scheduled to take place on May 18. What they need now is almost 0,000 to reinvent the outdated Hopkins Planetarium Theater.

The Hopkins Planetarium Theater was named after state Senator William B. Hopkins, Sr., one of the founding members of Center in the Square. Roanoke City’s Senator John Edwards worked at the Hopkins law firm for eleven years when it was Martin, Hopkins, Lemon & Carter from 1981 to 1992. Hopkins died in December at the age of 90.

Rollings asked city council Monday for consideration of a one to one or two to one funding match to cover the reinvention.

The Hopkins Planetarium Theater still needs significant updating and renovations to convert to a digital projection system. Rollings is looking for pledges over a 4-5 year period for a SciDomeXD Digital Projection System that will cost $265,000.

“The board decided to raise money first for renovations – but renovate other areas first,” said Rollings. The planetarium is currently using cumbersome film and needs to move to an all digital system. “Nobody is doing that anymore,” he said.

Rollings pointed to the planetarium as “a portal to a STEM-education universe.” STEM stands for education in the areas of science technology engineering and math – a program established to combat a decline of science and math in the classroom.

Councilman Bill Bestpitch told Rollings that “funds are pretty tight right now.”

Vice Mayor Court Rosen said that it was a little late for this budget year and city government is moving away from funding area agencies long term capital commitments. “This could be something to fit the ongoing goal of endowments,” he said.

Councilman Dave Trinkle had just attended a meeting where arts and cultural funding was the topic. He agreed that the request was late in the budget process and hoped a long term funding mechanism could be arranged in the private sector.

Mayor Bowers recalled the planetarium’s beginnings over 30 years ago saying it was good for the community.

Rollings reminded council that the planetarium provides “admission tax that will feed some funding back to the city.” Bowers asked for attendance figures and Rollings estimated it at 30% of Science Museum’s general attendance.

City Manager Chris Morrill said that city council in the past had decided agencies would find their own sustainable funding sources. He recommended to the Science Museum the same path that other agencies have had to take. “Our funding is just one piece of what the community can do.”

When the Science Museum opens on May 18 it will have three galleries –  Healthy Bodies, Healthy Earth, and a How It Works. Included will be electricity and the solar powering of simple machines, an open hands-on lab, a butterfly garden and a new Kid’s Zone. “They (kids) dictate how long all of us get to stay in the museum,” said Rollings.

By Valerie Garner

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