Planetarium closed for repairs, improvements for STEM

Jackson’s Russell C. Davis Planetarium is due for a facelift, and once it’s finished, city officials hope the improvements will help attract more visitors.

The city was expected to open bids last week from contractors hoping to remove and replace the aging facility’s roof.

Additionally, the city is planning an “extensive third floor renovation,” which will give the floor a totally new look, according to Tony Jones, acting deputy director of public works.

The roof work will include removing and replacing the planetarium’s flat roof, not the dome, said Tony Jones, acting deputy director of public works.

“If an acceptable bid is received, the city council will be asked to authorize a contract. Realistically … a notice to proceed could be issued on or about November 1,” he said. “Construction time is estimated to be 90 days.”

As part of the roof work, contractors will also do some limited interior repairs, including adding new ceiling tiles and cleaning the carpet.

Once that work is completed, major third-floor renovations will get under way.

That phase will include “all new interactive and informational exhibits, electronic displays and new gift shop,” Jones said.

In all, the projects are expected to cost around $500,000, with a portion of the funds coming from an endowment.

Meanwhile, the planetarium remains closed and likely will be for the duration of the work.

However, planetarium Manager Michael William said the work, once it’s finished, will be well worth the wait.

“It will allow us to provide a more entertaining and engaging educational experience for parents and students, and (will) revive the planetarium as a regular and fun-filled destination,” he said.

Along with the improvements, the facility also will be offering a new line up of large-format films and working to provide more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experience for schools.

The upgrades are coming years after the city installed a new projector in the theater. The project cost about $116,000 and replaced the device that had been in place for more than three decades.

With the new projector, the planetarium was able to expand its offerings to include new sky shows and wide-format films it was unable to show previously.

The planetarium averages about 16,000 people a year, about 35,000 fewer than it did at the height of its popularity.

Williams is hoping the improvements will again boost attendance numbers.

Said Williams, “At its height, the planetarium saw attendance in excess of 50,000 people a year, a number we look forward to eclipsing.”

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