LHS Planetarium has a cloudy future won’t be part of the new high school

LANCASTER – The Lancaster High School Planetarium faces an unknown future as it will not be part of the new high school that will open in about three years.

“We don’t know at this point,” school superintendent Nathan Hale said of the fate of the planetarium. “We still need the planetarium in this space for three more years as the high school will remain in operation until we move into the new building.”

Lancaster City Schools plans to build a new high school with a tentative opening date of January 2025.

The Peters Planetarium opened in 1966. The star projector, which projects images onto the ceiling, is an original Spitz A3P model from the early 1960s. It is capable of projecting all the planets, approximately 3,00 stars, the sun and moon, among others.

The building housing the planetarium will be demolished to make way for a road on the new high school campus. But Hale said the school district has a plan to dismantle the equipment and store it until a new location is chosen.

Lancaster City Schools Superintendent Nathan Hale walks inside the Lancaster High School Planetarium in Lancaster, Ohio on August 10, 2022.

“So in no time it will never be destroyed or thrown away,” he said. “We always intended to find another location or another group that could use it.”

Hale said the school district hopes to partner with the community to move it to another location in town so everyone can enjoy it.

“The schedule is based on when the school is open and when we have someone available,” he said. “If we can go somewhere in the community, we’d love to support that.”

Former LHS astronomy professor Roger Grossenbacher directed the planetarium from 1971 to 1998. He said he was disappointed to learn that the district did not include the planetarium in the new high school.

He said there is a group interested in moving the planetarium to another site. Grossenbacher said he could not yet reveal who the group is or if the group will open the planetarium to the public. He estimated the cost at around $30,000 to $50,000 to move the planetarium to a new site. Grossenbacker said there were enough donors supporting the planetarium to pay what he said would be around $10,000 to $15,000 to dismantle the equipment.

“Then we can store the electronic parts in an air-conditioned area until the new site is prepared,” he said. “Then it would cost a little more than that original figure to put the thing back together. We have an outfit that has very dutifully supported it over the years by maintaining it.

“The school wisely paid about $1,000 per visit for these fellows to come in every year or two to clean, lubricate and adjust all the moving parts of the thing to keep it in good working order.”

Peter Rockwood’s grandmother, Dorothy Peters, funded the planetarium when it was built, Rockwood’s wife, Deborah, said. She said her father, Ralph, came up with the idea to build it when he was on the school board.

“But there’s nothing quite like the shared experience of being in a planetarium. Virtual reality is pretty isolating, but you can still learn a lot from these kinds of programs. But learning together from each other and teacher is simply irreplaceable, I think.”

Lancaster City Schools Superintendent Nathan Hale looks at the Spitz Planetarium Projector inside the Lancaster High School Planetarium in Lancaster, Ohio on August 10, 2022.

“They had the wherewithal to provide that in the new high school,” Deborah Rockwood said. “I know with the new high school, they’re not giving up on astronomy. But they could do some sort of virtual reality program that has some benefits.

Deborah Rockwood said she and her husband are aware of the financial constraints of including the planetarium in the new school, but are hopeful it can be retained for community use.

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Twitter: @JeffDBarron

Arline J. Mercier