Planetarium halfway to goal for renovations

Fundraising to renovate the Russell C. Davis Planetarium in downtown Jackson, which has been closed since 2018 due to a leaking roof and interior damage, continues.

“We got more than half the funding,” said David Lewis, assistant director of cultural services for the city of Jackson. “The project total is $16 million and we have raised $8.3 million.”

Potential private donors are being contacted, he said, in hopes of closing fundraising for the three-and-a-half-year project in the fall.

“The sooner we can get people to commit to supporting the project, the sooner we can get this project off the ground,” he said.

City of Jackson leaders had hoped to get $2 million from the state this year for the project, but Gov. Tate Reeves vetoed spending passed by lawmakers on upgrades to the planetarium, state park of LeFleur’s Bluff and several other legislators. .

At the time of his veto, Reeves said the planetarium, located at 201 E. Pascagoula St., was closed and questioned whether providing an additional $2 million would support the project.

Lewis said the city has engaged in “open dialogue” with the Legislative Assembly and the governor’s office to make sure they understand the importance of the project. It is expected to seek funding from the Legislative Assembly in the 2023 session, he said.

Tourism will benefit from a renovated planetarium, which would be another attraction for people to visit in Jackson and provide a reason to extend a stay, he said. Students will also benefit from educational opportunities in science, technology and engineering, he added.

“As they get closer to college, students will remember Jackson’s cool place that sparked their imaginations,” he said.

Downtown Jackson would benefit from investment in the planetarium, which could eventually spur new investment, he said. The planetarium adjoins the Mississippi Arts Center on East Pascagoula Street and is within walking distance of Thalia Mara Hall and the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Hopkins Construction has completed the demolition of the interior of the planetarium, which helped address the mold that developed after the roof leaked.

The project includes installing new exhibits outside the planetarium theater, Lewis said. The theater projector and screen are in good condition.

In plans, the second floor, which has been used as office space, will be gutted and transformed into an adaptive learning space with an open floor plan and fitted with furniture that can be moved around depending on its use.

An exhibit on the Mississippi space program would be located on the second floor.

Astronaut Ronald McNair, who died during the launch of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, spent two years at the Davis Planetarium learning what he needed to know to become the first orbital cinematographer.

A new atrium that will connect to the Mississippi Arts Center and provide a new entrance on East Pascagoula Street will give the planetarium greater visibility. “It will be a more celebrated entry,” Lewis said.

“All that’s left to do are the construction documents and a design phase of the exhibit,” Lewis said.

Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons Architects + Engineers provides architectural design services and Falcon’s Treehouse LLC, which specializes in themed entertainment design, provides exhibit design.

Falcon’s Treehouse has provided services to institutions such as the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Cape Canaveral, and the Singapore Science Center.

Lewis and Mike Williams, general manager of the planetarium, visited Falcon’s Treehouse. Falcon’s Treehouse, which provides design work for theme parks as well as museums, has the ability “to merge education and storytelling to turn that experience on its head,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he and Williams experienced this when they visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

“We saw the exhibit they had designed, called ‘Heroes and Legends,’ sponsored by Boeing,” he said. “This was a project where they renovated a very dated showroom and reimagined it into an immersive storytelling exhibit about what it takes to be an astronaut.

“They also did a project that caught our eye with the National Geographic Museum on Dr Jane Goodall. They invented technology with augmented reality glasses that allows guests to watch Jane Goodall and the chimpanzees come to life in the space she inhabits. They have won many awards for it.

Lewis and Williams also visited the Hayden Planetarium, part of the American Museum of Natural Science in New York, and the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, which includes the Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium which, when it opened in 2017 , was the largest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere.

“What we’ve learned from a lot of these facilities is that they’re remarkably well funded,” Lewis said. “Since we are starting afresh, we have had a chance to continuously look to the future and use projection technology, screen-based technology, as well as virtual and augmented reality to constantly update information as we go. that we learn more about space science. As science advances, we can update quickly and maintain relevance.

Built in 1979, the Davis Planetarium is one of the largest in the region, Lewis said. The planetarium offered a theatrical experience with a variety of content with programs ranging from stargazing to “traveling” to various planets.

Roof damage resulting from hail forced the planetarium to close in April 2018. “We made the decision not to reopen but to take the time to do a full and proper renovation,” Lewis said.

Lewis said he looks forward to when the Davis Planetarium welcomes adults who enjoyed the attraction as children, and he hopes those adults’ children find it as appealing as their parents once did. “We want to make sure we do it impeccably well,” he said.

Arline J. Mercier