Austin and Cedar Park plan for planetariums

Amberly Tabor

     Austin is the largest city in the United States without a planetarium. In fact, there isn’t a planetarium in the Central Texas region. The closest planetarium is located in San Antonio—a bit of a drive for school field trips and day trips with the family. The group Austin Planetarium, formed in 2004, has been attempting to create a planetarium a little closer to home. However, they have not been able to find an idea that has gained enough momentum until now. If built, the new planetarium would replace a parking lot close to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art. A planetarium would include a domed ceiling and a state-of-the-art opto-mechnical star projector which would display a high definition picture of the constellations and planets onto the domed ceiling. This would allow people to view the night sky regardless of time and weather, unlike an observatory which would have to be operated at night and require clear skies.

     “It would help people see if they would want to major in science, if that’s what they wanted to pursue,” Al Alomari, senior, said.

     Inspired by the idea of creating a planetarium in Austin, Mayor Bob Lemon of Cedar Park proposed a similar idea at the Cedar Park City Council meeting held February 11. The 4B Community Development Corporation ran with the idea and envisioned a much larger project, a science center complete with a planetarium, history museum, veteran’s museum, community center, art gallery and science lab. Lemon hopes that this will not only spark an interest in the sciences in children, but provide them with the means to explore what the world of science has to offer.

     “I think it would be intriguing to everybody,” Morgan Gerber, junior, said. “It’s hands-on education.”

     Mayor Pro Tem Matt Powell saw the idea as a way to possibly bring an IMAX theater to Cedar Park, which could show educational films and other movies, similar to the Bob Bullock IMAX Theatre. Concordia University in Austin and Austin Community College were asked if they would consider a partnership on the project, both were interested and are planning to discuss the idea with their respective board members.

     “The science center is in its infancy right now,” Phil Brewer, director of Economic Development for the City of Cedar Park, said. “It’s more of a concept right now; an idea.”

     Although not much progress has been made for Cedar Park’s science center and planetarium, ad hoc, a citizen’s committee focused on planning the science center, includes members from Concordia University. Cedar Park City Council hopes that members from ACC will also join the committee. A “public-private” partnership is required for the science center to be successful, especially from an educational standpoint. The committee’s job is to drill down and get more info so that this idea can become a plan. Money has already been set aside in the budget to do these assessments, so hopefully within the upcoming months more news will be shared about this new project.

      “It will take a number of years…[for the science center] to materialize into reality,” Brewer said. “Due diligence is needed to get the questions answered.”

     The Austin Planetarium group however, seems to have a more concrete idea for their planetarium that will hopefully begin development in 2012, with construction through 2014.

     The Austin Planetarium group originally planned for the project to cost five million dollars; the figure has increased by at least ten fold now. The group is hoping for an 115,000 foot facility that will enhance the city’s already high-tech feel and bring more education opportunities to children who are interested in exploring science. They hope to create the largest planetarium in the world. Their plan for the planetarium would include a minimum of 250 seats and a dome that will have a diameter of at least 75 feet.

     If both planetariums are built, there is sure to be competition between the two, considering that there are currently no planetariums in the Central Texas region. However Brewer believes that because Cedar Park plans to build an entire science center, it will be sure to attract many people from surrounding areas, even with competition.