(Updated at 4:50 p.m.) Two and a half years after we first reported that Arlington Public Schools was planning to close the aging David M. Brown Planetarium (1426 N. Quincy Street), the planetarium officially reopened today (Friday) with a flourish.
Elected officials, school employees, media members and planetarium supporters were on hand for a ribbon cutting ceremony and reception this morning. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work by a dedicated group of planetarium boosters — the Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium — who succeeded not only in preventing the planetarium’s closure, but in raising more than $400,000 to fully renovate and modernize the facility.
The forty-year-old planetarium now features a state-of-the-art Spitz SciDome HD digital projection system, an integrated surround sound system, LED dome lighting, and new seating, carpeting, insulation, plumbing, mechanical systems, restrooms and doors.
Raphael Perrino, a former Arlington Public Schools student who helped lead the charge to save the planetarium, said today’s opening was “surreal” after so many hours spent to make it possible.
“This is a triumphant day for Arlington, and I’m proud to be part of this group and proud of the planetarium,” he told ARLnow.com. Perrino said he hopes the planetarium will continue to inspire budding astronomers and scientists for years to home.
“This is such a wonderful day… it’s similar to my first time coming to the planetarium when I was six years old,” he said. “I remember coming through that hallway and seeing all those galaxies, and supernovae and nebulae and planets. Coming into that room that was full of stars — that to me was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen, to see a night sky. Growing up in an suburban-slash-urban environment you’re not used to seeing a sky like that. To have seen that for the first time was very special. So this is almost similar, in the level of excitement. It’s just an exhilarating day.”
About half of the more than $400,000 raised to save the planetarium was donated by small donors — often in $5, $10 or $20 increments — the other half came from large donors, Perrino said. In addition the numerous volunteers, donors and petition signers, Perrino credited Arlington’s unique brand of civic participation for today’s joyous outcome.
“It’s a victory for Arlington children, it’s a victory for science outreach and education, and it’s really quintessential Arlington Way,” he said. “The idea that you see something you don’t like, you get together and do something about it. It’s civic engagement that you see here, and it’s a beautiful part of this community. I feel very privileged to have been a part of this campaign.”
Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium President Dr. Alice Monet, who was among the speakers at the ceremony, said one of the more powerful emotions she experienced today was relief.
“Speaking for myself, I feel happy and relieved that the job has been finished and everything turned out so well,” she said. “It was such a complex effort, involving so many people, all sorts of challenges, roadblocks and opportunities, near disasters and astonishing breakthroughs, personality clashes and camaraderie – and, overall, it was a very humbling and inspiring experience. The new planetarium is sleek, polished, and beautifully functional. I feel sure it will be a great place for teaching and inspiring students, teachers, and the whole community for years to come.”
About 25,000 students are expected to visit the planetarium each year, according to Perrino. That number may increase, he said, as other school systems consider arranging for their students to utilize the facility.
The planetarium is named after the late astronaut and Yorktown High School grad David M. Brown, who perished in the 2003 Columbia disaster.
In addition to hosting today’s ceremony, the Friends of the Planetarium will be hosting a series of grand opening events this weekend.
Among those on hand for the reopening ceremony were: APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy, Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez and other members of the Arlington School Board, Rep. Jim Moran, former NASA astronaut William Readdy, former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, APS Science Department Supervisor Dr. Dat Le, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations Clarence Stukes, County Board member Libby Garvey, Dels. Alfonso Lopez and Patrick Hope, state Sen. Barbara Favola, and WJLA meteorologist Bob Ryan.
Photo (middle) courtesy Frank Bellavia/APS
Events will take place throughout the weekend of September 28-30, beginning with a ribbon cutting on Friday (September 28) at 10:00 a.m. A “Family Day” begins at 12:30 p.m. that Saturday. Although people of all ages are welcome to attend, there will be many things aimed at children ages 3-12, including hands-on activities, art and games. Festivities will end with the Sunday Science Program at 1:00 p.m. on September 30, featuring a short talk and a activities like making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Tours of the facility will be available both days.
Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium, the non-profit group founded more than two years ago to launch the fundraising campaign that saved the facility, is co-hosting the events with Arlington Public Schools.
In 2010, in response to an outcry against a plan to shutter the planetarium and use it for classroom space, APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy proposed the challenge of a private group coming up with $402,800 for necessary renovations. That goal was achieved by the Friends just before the deadline last summer, thanks to a flood of last minute donations.
“When the school administration realized that there was tremendous support for the planetarium, they pitched in too,” said Dr. Alice Monet with Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium. “It’s a real joint effort.”
The facility upgrades include a new Spitz SciDome HD projector, a new interior dome, new seats, new floors and new restrooms. Some donators also purchased dedicated nameplates that have been affixed to certain seats.
Construction is still ongoing, but we’re told crews are “working like mad” to ready the facility for the grand re-opening.
Hotel Palomar For Sale? — Connecticut-based HEI Hospitality LLC is in talks to buy Hotel Palomar (1121 19th Street N.) in Rosslyn for a reported $45 million, or nearly $300,000 per room. The high-end hotel is currently owned by JBG Cos. and operated by Kimpton Hotels. [Bloomberg]
Redistricting Lawsuit Could Delay Primaries — Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has requested that the state delay the June 12 congressional primaries by two months, following a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court to allow a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s recent redistricting process to proceed. [Washington Post]
Planetarium Renovations On Track — Renovations to Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium are underway and on schedule. The modernized planetarium is expected to reopen this fall, perhaps as early as September. A citizen-formed nonprofit group, the Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium, helped to raise more than $400,000 for the renovations. [Sun Gazette]
Yorktown Band Seeks Donations — The Yorktown Band Boosters are seeking donations of used musical instruments and cases. The 501(c)3 nonprofit asks that those with questions about donating call 703-228-5370.
County to Label Building Energy Use — In October, Arlington will start installing signs on county-owned building that will reveal the building’s energy use and carbon footprint. “We’d like people to think of energy use in buildings like they think of gasoline use in cars,” Joan Kelsch, Arlington’s green building program manager, told reporter Michael Lee Pope. [WAMU]
Planetarium Donors and Dedications — Among the whimsical new seat dedications in the soon-to-be-renovated David M. Brown Planetarium: “Pick any star — make a wish!” “Gaze upward & dream!” and “4 Who Is Yet To Come.” [savetheplanetarium.org]
Fairfax Supervisor Candidate’s 2010 Arlington Assault — An independent candidate for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors was charged with assault in Arlington after a heated argument over a Crystal City parking space on March 25, 2010. “It was an altercation between two adults,” explained Will Radle, who has been endorsed by the Independent Green party. [Kingstowne Patch]
A flood of last minute donations has helped to save Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium. A large donation from an anonymous donor pushed the campaign past its goal as the fundraiser came to a close on Thursday.
The anonymous donation of $50,000 bumped the total to $435,000. That surpassed the goal of $402,800 set in April 2010 by Dr. Patrick Murphy, Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools.
More than 3,500 businesses, individuals and foundations contributed to the cause, 200 of them taking part during the 10-day online fundraising challenge. The money will go toward purchasing a state-of-the-art planetarium projector, replacing the seats, updating the lighting system and repairing the inside of the dome. Had the goal not been met, the 40 year old facility would have been closed and used for classroom space.
Friends of the Arlington Planetarium, the non-profit group formed to raise money for the project, says it will continue to make sure the planetarium stays up to date and will provide support as necessary.
Last year, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy set June 30, 2011 as the date by which planetarium supporters had to raise $402,800 to pay for necessary upgrades to the 40-year-old facility. If the deadline was not met, the school system would close the planetarium and use it as classroom space — as Dr. Murphy originally proposed before supporters successfully lobbied the School Board to find a way to save the planetarium.
A non-profit entity called the Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium was formed to raise the money for the upgrades. As of last night, they had collected some $371,000 in donations. ‘Friends’ President Alice Monet says she expects donors big and small to come through over the next day and a half.
“The community really wants to see this planetarium stick around,” she said. “We anticipate donations continuing to flow in… At the end of the day we will have full amount in hand.”
Monet admitted, however, that it’s unlikely the school system would shutter the planetarium at this point, even if the group misses its fundraising goal.
“Honestly, the point has been made already that Arlington supports the planetarium,” she said. “If we don’t make it, we’ll keep working until we do.”
Once the capital campaign is complete, Monet said, the Friends organization will shift from a fundraising role to an advisory role regarding the planetarium’s upgrades and on-going operations.
Wakefield Groundbreaking Today — At 9:30 this morning Arlington Public Schools officials will hold a groundbreaking for the new, $116 million Wakefield High School. Construction on the school is expected to begin next month and wrap up by fall 2013.
Planetarium Group Nears Fundraising Goal — The Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium group has raised more than $350,000 to renovate the aging David M. Brown Planetarium, which supporters helped to save from being mothballed by the school system. The Friends were given the goal of raising $402,800 by June 30, but observers expect that the current haul — plus the haul from one final fundraiser — will be “close enough.” [Sun Gazette]
Crystal City Profiled — “Once considered an area to work but not play, Crystal City has blossomed into a hub of activity for residents and tourists. With roughly 11,000 residents, 5,600 hotel rooms and a number of tallish buildings, the community often has the feel of a bustling city,” says the D.C. Examiner. The paper’s profile of Crystal City credits part of its new-found bustle on the neighborhood’s burgeoning restaurant and bar scene. [Washington Examiner]
The Arlington County Civic Federation will discuss the county and school budgets at its monthly meeting tonight.
Among the recommendations:
- A one-time 1.6 cent real estate tax reduction. (The manager’s budget recommends that real estate taxes hold steady at 95.8 cents per $100 in value.)
- A $250,000 allocation for basic repairs to the Lubber Run Amphitheater
- Only $400,000 for continued operations at the money-losing Artisphere, half the amount requested by staff.
- Rejection of $239,000 in school funds for the David M. Brown Planetarium. The Federation calls for the planetarium to be supported with county funds, not school funds.
The meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. in the Hazel Conference Center at Virginia Hospital Center (1701 N George Mason Drive).
(Updated at 9:20 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy proposed a budget Thursday morning that increases high school class sizes but grants teachers at least part of a desired pay raise.
The proposed FY 2012 budget includes a step increase for teachers and other school employees that was not granted last year amid a serious budget crunch. It does not, however, include a cost of living (COLA) increase. COLA increases used to be granted nearly every year until Arlington’s budget difficulties began two years ago.
Senior employees and employees at the top of the pay scale — who together make up about 33 percent of the work force — are not eligible for a step increase. Dr. Murphy is proposing a one-time payment of $1,000 to those employees. The total cost of all pay raises is estimated at
$16.4 $7.9 million. (The original $16.4 million figure included benefit and retirement increases.)
The new $470 million school budget raises the cost per pupil to $18,115, from a low of $17,322 last year and a high of $19,538 in FY 2009. The budget represents a $27.8 million — or 6.3 percent — increase over last year’s budget. It reflects, however, a projected enrollment increase of nearly 1,000 students over FY 2011.
The superintendent’s budget includes an increase in class sizes for grades 9-12, from 24.4 students per class to 25.4 students per class. Dr. Murphy leaves a one student increase in class sizes for grades K-8 as an “option” for the school board to consider. Dr. Murphy, facing a looming system-wide capacity crisis, also budgets for the purchase of 12 new relocatable classrooms.
“Capacity and enrollment will continue to be something we’re going to have to look at,” Dr. Murphy said, noting that Arlington schools still “have some of the smallest class sizes in the region.”
The budget includes some good news for supporters of the Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium.
Iwo Jima Memorial Revamp Planned — One of the most memorable sights in Arlington may be getting a face lift. The 56-year-old Iwo Jima memorial is in need of a refurbishment and more frequent flag replacements, supporters say. A group, the Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation, also wants to add a volunteer-staffed reception center with permanent restrooms, replacing the plastic portable toilets currently on site. [USA Today]
George Allen Wants His Senate Seat Back – Former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) says he will run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and formerly held by himself. The 2012 race will also feature a challenge on Allen’s right during the primary. Some fellow Republicans wasted no time portraying Allen, once thought of as a possible presidential candidate, as “one of the biggest government guys out there” and “a part of the Washington establishment.” [Washington Post]
The Planetarium Booster — Meet Alice Monet, president of the Friends of Arlington’s Donald M. Brown Planetarium group. The retired Naval Observatory astronomer and Washington-Lee grad is helping to raise money to upgrade the planetarium and keep it open for future generations. [Washington Examiner]
Yorktown High Wins Theater Award — Yorktown High School took first place at the National District One-Act Play Festival for the third time running. The competition, held in Fairfax over the weekend, showcases D.C. area theater talent. “Yorktown’s show Bottom’s Dream, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will advance to the Northern Region One Act Play Festival [on] Feb. 5,” a parent tells us. “Yorktown will hold an encore performance of the show at 7 p.m. Feb. 4 at Yorktown High, 5200 Yorktown Boulevard.”
Flickr pool photo by Shannon Field
The donation, first announced late last week, was given to the Friends of the David M. Brown Planetarium organization in the form of a challenge grant. From now until the $100,000 is exhausted, each donation to the planetarium will be matched by Mr. Caruthers’ funds.
That means that reaching certain donation levels will be easier for individual donors. For instance, a donor would now only need to donate $500 to reach the $1,000 level required to dedicate a seat in the planetarium.
“It’s a way of encouraging people to make a donation, and to do it sooner rather than later,” said Friends of the Planetarium Board President Alice Monet. Prospective donors want to get their donations in before the challenge funds are depleted, she said.
The $100,000 donation came at a critical time, as the planetarium campaign was eying a looming fundraising deadline set by Arlington Public Schools, which owns and operates the aging facility on the grounds of Washington-Lee High School.
With Mr. Caruthers’ gift figured in, the Friends have now raised close to $250,000. The donation pushed the organization just north of the school-imposed $241,680 target for the end of December. The ultimate fundraising target for the group is $402,800 on June 30 of this year, with a $322,240 target set for March 31.
Monet says the organization has “seen a big effect already” from the Caruthers challenge.
Between 30 and 40 donations came in over the weekend, Monet said, blowing away the usual half dozen donations during a typical weekend.
“It’s now clear to people that we’re a lot more likely to succeed,” she said. “It’s an achievable fundraising effort, and people want to be a part of that.”
The suggested $10 and $20 donations from attendees to will go toward upgrading the aging planetarium and saving it from possible closure.
Tonight’s event will feature three separate shows targeted at both older and younger audiences. Here’s a description from organizers:
4:30 pm – Children’s program – Legends of the Night Sky or The Zula Patrol
6:00 pm – Family program – Black Holes, The Other Side of Infinity
7:30 pm – Older Audiences – Oasis in Space
These digital shows will give viewers an example of the new programming available for the updated planetarium. All three programs will include an abbreviated “The Sky Tonight” by Planetarium Director Jonathan Harmon, as well as a Q&A about Saving the Planetarium by Friends of the Planetarium President Dr. Alice Monet.
Donations are requested: $10/person or $20/family per show. Kids 9 and younger are free.
Doors open 20 minutes before showtime. Or send an email (email@example.com) to reserve your seats and arrive 15 minutes before showtime to get your tickets. T-shirts and bumper stickers will be available.
Planetarium Fundraising Now Exceeds $100K — The Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium group has now raised $120,000 to help fund renovations at the 40-year-old facility. The group is still far from its goal of raising $400,000 by summer 2011, but it is hoping to close the gap by landing a few major donations from local defense contractors. More from TBD.
Sharrows on Clarendon Boulevard – Arlington County is doing away with a bike lane between Courthouse Road and Rhodes Street on Clarendon Boulevard. In its place, the county is making the right-hand traffic lane a shared car/bike lane. Bikes should be able to keep up with traffic on the stretch of road, much of which is a steep downhill. More from WashCycle.
Ugly Holiday Sweater Party at EatBar — EatBar is throwing an ugly holiday sweater party, complete with spiked peppermint patty hot cocoa and a viewing of the 1983 classic A Christmas Story. The festive event will kick off at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 19. More from WCP Y&H.
Flickr pool photo by MichaelTRuhl
Earmark Could Save Planetarium — Rep. Jim Moran says he’s going to try to dig up $400,000 in federal funds to help renovate and save Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium. But even if he’s successful, Moran’s press secretary says the money would not be available until late next year — past the fundraising deadline the school board set for the non-profit Friends of the Planetarium group. More from the Sun Gazette.
Golf Farce Premieres at Signature Theater — Now playing at Shirlington’s Signature Theater: A Fox on the Fairway. The show, which is making its world premiere at Signature, is a “screwball comedy” and “a tribute… to the great English farces of the 1930s and 1940s.” Starring Jeff McCarthy, Holly Twyford and Andrew Long, A Fox on the Fairway is “about love, life, and man’s eternal love affair with… golf.” See a video promo here.
Sushi Rock Applying for Dance Hall Permit — Sushi Rock wants to become a late night party spot. But it also wants to “keep the volume to a reasonable level,” which means lots of sound-proofing material. The county board is expected to decide whether to grant Sushi Rock a live entertainment and dance hall permit at its upcoming round of meetings — either Saturday or Tuesday. More from TBD.
An approximately $50,000 grant from the Children’s Fund of Metropolitan Washington will be made by the end of the month, Friends of the Planetarium president Alice Monet said today.
Up to this point, the Friends had raised about $22,500. The group is trying to raise $400,000 by next summer to upgrade the 40-year-old planetarium facility.
Monet says she hopes the Children’s Fund gift will be the first of several major institutional donations to the Friends organization.