Studying the universe soon will become a little easier.
A 53-seat planetarium is expected to open this spring in the newly constructed science building at Spokane Falls Community College, becoming one of five planetariums in Washington and the second in the region.
“The planetarium projection system is top-of-the-line – almost 3-D – with screen resolution and a sound system that are among the best in the Northwest,” said Dennis Dunham, SFCC director of facilities.
Jim Brady, dean of math, computing and science instruction at the college, said, “About the only thing the old planetariums could do was show a night sky – animated planets – but this is digital, so we can show just about anything – almost like a mini Imax. The main purpose of it is astronomy-related shows, but we can play anything in it that’s programmed for a dome.
“With a 15-foot (dome) radius, once the show is going, you are in the show,” he added.
The planetarium will be used primarily for student instruction, but it will also be opened to the public on select days, as is Eastern Washington University’s planetarium.
The vast majority of the money to build the planetarium, about $500,000, was raised by students and the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation, Brady said.
“Where we started with hope, we pulled it off,” he said.
A $25,000 donation from the Kalispel Tribe, announced last week, is helping with the second phase of the construction, described as “creation of a seamless glass dome and acquisition of a high-definition digital projection system.”
“The Kalispel Tribe’s support of the planetarium project at SFCC underscores our commitment to building the educational resources of our region,” said tribal communications coordinator Rick Connacher.
College officials were elated not only about the planetarium, but also about the new science building that will replace one built in the 1960s.
The facility will be nearly 70,000 square feet, with the first floor dedicated to life sciences – two zoology labs, two biology labs, two anatomy/physiology labs – including a cadaver operating room – and one large botany lab. The second floor is dedicated to physical sciences – four chemistry labs, two physics labs and two geology labs.
Now that the opening is set for spring quarter, Brady said, “I’m halfway excited and halfway nervous.”