After being closed for nearly three years, the planetarium adjacent to Washington-Liberty High School is wishing upon a star that it will reopen later this fall.
It was back in November 2019 when the David M. Brown Planetarium on N. Quincy Street closed to allow for the overhaul of the adjacent Arlington Education Center at Washington-Liberty. It took longer than expected due to the pandemic, but that $38 million project is basically complete.
With that done, the planetarium is reopening as well with a few notable changes including a new person in charge, a state-of-the-art projector, and the removal of a mural.
The aim is to start running programs again by early November, Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium President Jennifer Lynn Bartlett told ARLnow.
The non-profit is the “booster club” for the planetarium, as Bartlett described it, while APS owns the facility and provides a large chunk of its funding.
While staff and students all missed the planetarium, the three-year closure and the adjacent building’s makeover allowed for much-needed updates, as well as staffing changes.
Earlier this summer, Arlington Public Schools hired Mary Clendenning as the school system’s new full-time planetarium specialist. For those who were regulars at the planetarium, she may be familiar, having presented weekend programming for several years prior to the closing. She also has more than two decades of experience in the classroom teaching science.
“I am thrilled to be Arlington’s new Planetarium Specialist!” she wrote in August’s Friends of Planetarium newsletter. “This new position offers me the opportunity to combine my passions while using a state-of-the-art projection system, the Digistar 7. I am so excited about being part of the reopening of an Arlington treasure, the Planetarium.”
The new projector system that Clendenning mentioned is set to be the star of the show.
When the planetarium first opened more than five decades ago, it had a mechanical optical system — essentially a ball that projected stars, ran patterns of the night sky, and faded lights to simulate the sun’s journey.
Then, in 2012, a new digital system replaced the old one. But like any computer, a system that’s a decade old is out of date.
“The technology is changing so rapidly that to continue to offer state-of-the-art programming, we need to move to more current hardware,” said Bartlett. “We want to continue to offer programs that are being written now about science that’s happening now.”
Bartlett said the new projection system will allow educators to put on programs beyond astronomy, including lessons on oceanography, earth science, and biology.
The new projection system, like nearly all tech these days, needs an internet connection so the planetarium now has Wi-Fi.
Another thing that planetarium goers will notice when they visit later this year is a missing mural.
In the process of connecting some ductwork to the HVAC system of the newly-renovated W-L annex, it was discovered that the exterior shell of the planetarium and portions of the interior entrance hallway contained asbestos. APS decided to remove the asbestos inside and, because of that, it required the removal of a mural that featured planets, the Milky Way solar system, and other galactic images that Bartlett believed were painted sometime in the 1980s.
‘Midsummer’ Starts Next Month — “Synetic Theater, the home of American Physical Theater and movement-based storytelling, announces the return of its acclaimed adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed and choreographed by company co-founders Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili. The production runs June 30 through July 24.” [Synetic Theater]
Local Donut Shop Expanding — “The owners of a Ballston doughnut shop and cafe are building out a commercial kitchen in Tysons to support a growing wholesale business and its own planned expansion… Charles Kachadoorian, a Good Company co-owner, said the shop has outgrown its capacity at 672 N. Glebe Road in Ballston, from which it produces sweets for its cafe, for other coffee shops to sell retail, and for its own catering business. It plans to expand across all of those avenues, Kachadoorian said, including with a new shop in Crystal City in the shorter term and one in D.C. in 2024.” [Washington Business Journal]
GOP Concern Over ‘Missing Middle’ — “Several Arlington Republicans have expressed your concerns about the County’s proposal to upzone single-family residential plots in neighborhoods across the county. We are passing along information from Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF), should you decide you want to make your voice heard on this issue.” [Arlington GOP]
Planetarium Supporters Look to Future — “Boosters of the Arlington school system’s planetarium are hopeful that new budget funding will enable the facility – shuttered since before the pandemic – to reopen with a permanent teacher attached to it by fall. School Board members in early May overruled Superintendent Francisco Durán and dropped in nearly $150,000 to support the David M. Brown Planetarium for the coming school year. Durán had proposed keeping the facility closed for another year.” [Sun Gazette]
Rosslyn Walk Planned — “When you’re out and about, do you find yourself contemplating how sidewalks, land use, and street connectivity influence your experience and enjoyment of public spaces? If so, make sure to RSVP to WalkArlington’s upcoming “Walk and Learn” focused on street design in Rosslyn on Wednesday, May, 25 from 5:30 – 6:45pm.” [GGWash]
W-L Boys Win District Soccer Tourney — “With the Washington-Liberty Generals hosting the championship match of the Liberty District boys soccer tournament, head coach Jimmy Carrasquillo expressed some pre-game concerns. The top-seeded Generals (15-0-1) entertained the third-seeded Yorktown Patriots in an all-Arlington clash, and Carrasquillo knew the rematch would be much tougher than his team’s 4-0 regular-season victory over its neighborhood rival.” [Sun Gazette]
Some Cicada Stragglers Spotted — “Have you ever been late to a party? I mean really late, so late that by the time you arrived, the party was over and the guests were long gone? If so, then you have something in common with the periodical cicadas that have been popping up in the last few weeks from Maryland to Tennessee. They’re a year late to the raucous party billions of their fellow Brood X cicadas threw last summer.” [Washington Post]
It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning, ending in the afternoon. High of 65 and low of 56. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:23 pm. [Weather.gov]
Advocates Pushing for Less Parking at HQ2 — “Amazon wants employees at its new Northern Virginia headquarters to commute car-free to work… So why does the development’s current design include an underground parking garage with nearly 2,000 spaces — guaranteeing that a significant chunk of Amazon’s workforce will drive to work?” [Greater Greater Washington]
Express Lanes Causing 14th Street Bridge Slowdown? — Some commuters have been taking to social media to gripe about what they say is heavier traffic caused by the I-395 Express Lanes: “This morning the express lanes made 395N regular lanes undriveable. The problem is they closed off the 14th street bridge hov to regular traffic, which is creating a tremendous clog point. Its now taking 30 mins just to cross the 14th street bridge.” [Twitter, Twitter]
Northam in Arlington Today — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is scheduled to attend the Governor’s Transportation Conference this morning at a hotel in Crystal City. [Cvent]
‘Feuerwehrmann’ Joins ACFD for Three Weeks — “Two Arlington County Fire Department crews had a unique opportunity recently when they welcomed a fellow firefighter from the Aachen Fire Department in Germany. Lieutenant Sebastian Ganser, a firefighter, paramedic, and fire instructor in Arlington’s sister city of Aachen, Germany, spent three weeks with Station 5C in Crystal City and Station 2B in Ballston — living and working alongside Arlington’s firefighters and paramedics.” [Arlington County]
Long-Distance Runners Arriving in Arlington Soon — “Josh and Brian will be running roughly 500 miles from Massachusetts National Cemetery to Arlington National Cemetery in VA for your donations. This journey will take between 10-14 days averaging 40-50 miles per day. They will start on November 11th, 2019 (Veterans Day) and will only stop to eat and sleep until they make it to Arlington, VA.” [Mission 22]
Road Closures for Annual 5K — “The 5th annual Jennifer Bush-Lawson Memorial 5K Race will take place on Saturday, November 23, 2019. The Arlington County Police Department will implement several road closures from approximately 8:00 AM until 11:00 AM to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County]
Planetarium Boosters to Stay Active During Closure — “The Arlington school system’s lone planetarium will be closed for about a year and a half starting later this month, as construction takes place turning the nearby Arlington Education Center building into classroom space. But leaders with the Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium say they will fill the gap with programming elsewhere during the closure.” [InsideNova]
State Change Affecting Arlington Teacher Union — “Arlington School Board members could be gearing up to battle the state government’s powerful Virginia Retirement System (VRS) on a new ruling that impacts the way benefits are calculated for presidents of the Arlington Education Association.” [InsideNova]
Planetarium Closing Next Year — “In September, the David M. Brown Planetarium will once again offer three shows a day for students, plus weekend and select weekday programs for the general public. In January, it will temporarily shut down for more than a year while an adjacent construction project converts the Arlington Education Center into classroom space.” [Arlington Magazine]
Arlington Startup Serving D.C. Schools — “The administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced in August that the city would spend $26,400 to partner with LiveSafe, an Arlington, Va., tech company. The move comes in response to students’ repeated pleas to the city to make their commutes safer.” [Washington Post]
Ballston Bar’s Pricey Booze-Free Drinks — “The new Punch Bowl Social in Ballston Quarter mall was designed to cater to millennials (hello photo booths, corn hole, and karaoke). Now they’re jumping on the ‘sober-curious’ trend with a $19 zero-proof punch bowl.” [Washingtonian]
Local Courts Dropping Fare Evasion Cases — “When a rider is cited for not paying the fare to board a bus or train in Northern Virginia, the ticket is more likely to be dropped in the courts than paid. Only 278 of the 1,306 fare evasion citations handled by the Arlington, Fairfax and Alexandria general district courts between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2019, were paid, according to court records. In those districts, roughly $38,000 in fare evasion fines have gone unpaid in the past two years.” [Washington Post]
Arlington Has Some of the Oldest First-Time Mothers Nationwide — A new analysis suggests that the average Arlingtonian mother has her first child at 31, putting the county sixth in the nation in terms of the oldest average age. Falls Church ranks fourth. [New York Times]
Arlington Planetarium Faces Temporary Closure — The facility could be closed for a year or more in 2020-2021, as the school system renovates the Education Center to allow for more high school seats. [InsideNova]
Pentagon City Rescue — Firefighters rescued an injured worker from a rooftop near the 400 block of 11th Street S. The worker suffered non-life threatening injuries. [Twitter]
Pentagon Set to Ban Fitness Trackers — Military and other DoD personnel soon won’t be able to take their Fitbits onto bases or other secure facilities, or even use step-tracking apps or other GPS functions on their phones. [WTOP]
Back to School at Barcroft Elementary — The school welcomed students and teachers back to class Monday (Aug. 7). Barcroft offers a “modified” calendar, reducing the summer break but not eliminating it. [Twitter, Twitter]
Flickr pool photo via wolfkann
A plan to designate one of the potential sites for a new public high school as a historic district will be discussed by the County Board tonight (Tuesday).
But the proposal has drawn skepticism from county and Arlington Public Schools staff, who want the Board to deny the request and instead help preserve flexibility for APS as it solves its capacity issues.
The Education Center at 1426 N. Quincy Street is one of three remaining options for the county’s next public high school — not counting a new option involving the center, floated by superintendent Patrick Murphy.
Under the plan for historic designation, the Education Center and the adjacent David M. Brown Planetarium would be saved from possible demolition and subject to a strict design review process for any changes to its exterior.
The request for historic designation came from local resident and Planning Commission member Nancy Iacomini, who described both 1960s-era buildings as “physical embodiments of the forward thinking of Arlington and our County’s hope for the future” in her nominating letter.
Preservation Arlington said in a blog post that the buildings are examples of “New Formalism,” which combined classical and more modern design elements. Both were completed in 1969, after being funded through a 1965 bond referendum.
But in their report on the plan, staff said the Education Center could help address school overcrowding and so designating it would prevent “maximum use (and reuse) of the public facilities we have.”
That is a view echoed by School Board chair Nancy Van Doren, who in a brief letter to County Board chair Jay Fisette expressed the School Board’s opposition to the plan.
“School Board members do not support pursuing historic designation of the building at this time as it would limit options to address the school division’s capacity needs at this site,” Van Doren wrote.
In a previous column, Peter Rousselot argued against the historic designation, and noted that APS is moving its administrative staff out of the building to new offices at Sequoia Plaza 2 on Washington Blvd. The School Board approved the move at its meeting last week.
Staff recommended finding that the site meet some of the criteria for historic designation but that further evaluation be shelved. They also proposed denying the request and collaborating in the future to see how the site can be reused.
Arlington, VHC Agree to Land Swap Terms — Arlington County and Virginia Hospital Center have preliminarily agreed to terms on a future land deal that would give the hospital extra room to expand. The deal would swap the county’s Edison Complex, next to the hospital, for hospital-owned property elsewhere and/or cash and other considerations. The County Board will vote on a proposed Letter of Intent on Sept. 24. [Arlington County]
Arlington Teen Mauled by Pit Bull — A 17-year-old was mauled by a pit bull in his home on 8th Street S., police said. The house was reportedly being used as a babysitting service for pit bulls and the boy suffered serious injuries after trying to break up a fight between two of the dogs. [NBC Washington]
Artisphere Still in County Hands — Arlington County and Monday Properties have not yet finalized a lease termination for the former Artisphere space in Rosslyn. While there has been some talk of a tech-related use for the massive, airy space — which costs $1 million per year just for heating, cooling and utilities — it’s as yet unclear what, if anything, will actually replace Artisphere. [DCist]
Arlington Loses Large Potential Tenant — Despite a push from Arlington County and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, The Advisory Board Co. will be staying in D.C. Local and state officials had hoped to woo the publicly traded company to the vacant 1812 N. Moore Street tower in Rosslyn, but in the end a $60 million incentive package offered by D.C. convinced the company to move to a New York Ave NW address near the convention center. [Washington Business Journal]
Tonight: E.T. Showing at the Planetarium — The Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium will kick off their fall fundraising festival this weekend with a movie screening tonight. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial will be showing at the planetarium starting at 7 p.m. tonight. Other events are planned for Saturday and Sunday. [Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium]
Fall Festival at Bluemont Park — On Saturday, Bluemont Park will host its free Fall Festival, featuring activities for all ages, including cornhole, bocce, a moon bounce, relay races and face painting. [Facebook]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Chicken Restaurant’s Name Goes National — ARLnow.com’s story about Chingon Pollo, the new chicken restaurant in Buckingham with a potentially vulgar name, has gone national. Last night it was picked up by the Jezebel sub-blog Kitchenette. While our most likely translation of the name — there are a number of potential translations — was “f-ckload of chicken,” Kitchenette translated it as “top f-cker chicken.” Meanwhile, in order to not run “a fowl” of authorities, the restaurant has officially changed its name to “Charcoal Chicken.” [Kitchenette]
New Burial Sites at ANC to Open Next Year — Arlington National Cemetery will open more than 27,000 new burial sites next year, as part of its Millennium Project expansion initiative. Local environmentalists and preservationists protested the expansion. [U.S. Army]
Crowdsourced Bike Rack Map — Arlington County is launching a free crowdsourced map of places to park one’s bicycle. RackSpotter, as it’s called, will rely on users to contribute information on the location and size of bike racks. [Bike Arlington]
Marymount to Buy Portable Planetarium — Marymount University has completed fundraising for a new portable planetarium. The planetarium, which is set up in a tent, will be brought to schools in Arlington, Fairfax and a number of other local counties. [InsideNova]
Crystal House Renovations — Roseland, the owner of the Crystal House apartments in Crystal City, says it’s embarking on a multi-phase renovation of the 828-unit complex. The renovations will spruce up the main lobby, grounds, pool, community common areas and the apartments themselves. “New state-of-the-art washers and dryers are being added to each building’s studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments,” according to a press release. “Further, full renovations to approximately half of the community’s 828 apartments will include upgraded kitchens with new appliances, upgraded fixtures and finishes in the bathrooms, and new flooring throughout.” A PR rep declined to say how much the renovations will cost.
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
The Daily Show Takes on VA Election — Last night Jon Stewart and the folks at The Daily Show aired a segment mocking what they portrayed as slim pickings for gubernatorial choices on Virginia’s ballot. The reporter said of Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, “apparently neither candidate is fit to lead.” [The Daily Show]
County Launches Urban Design Speaker Series — Arlington County will kick off its RoundAbouts speaker series on Wednesday, November 13. The series is hosted by the county’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development and is designed to facilitate discussion about thoughtful design and how to shape Arlington’s future. The first speaker will be Christopher B. Leinberger, a Brookings fellow, developer, researcher and author, who will speak on the topic “The Urbanization of the Suburbs: Why Arlington is the National Model and Where Do We Go Next.” [Arlington County]
MST3K Night at the Planetarium — A special Mystery Science Theater 3000 presentation will take place at the David M. Brown Planeterium (1426 N. Quincy Street) on Saturday, November 16. Attendees will get to poke fun at a comet-themed “B movie” from the 1970s. The show begins at 6:30 p.m. and tickets cost $3 for children, $5 for seniors and planetarium members, and $7 for adults. [Friends of the Planetarium]
(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.