The Planetarium Imaginarium

If you can imagine it, the planetarium can show it

Chris Cicchiello

As of this past summer, Niantic Center School teacher Diane Swan, along with a team of over 60 local community members has dedicated countless hours to restoring the planetarium in East Lyme High School. Although the school planned to turn the dome-shaped room into a multi-purpose room, Ms. Swan was determined to preserve the room and revitalize the planetarium.
“I can remember being a first grader and seeing Mr. Bloom showing us the constellations with his blue pointer,” said Ms. Swan. “It was a powerful experience that led me to get my Masters in Science and down the path that I went.”
The last time ELHS had a fully operational planetarium was 2013. That year, the servicing contract became too expensive for the grossly outdated operating system technology, leading to it being deconstructed. The planetarium chairs were added to the auditorium; however as for the machine itself, the whereabouts of it are less clear. Over the summer, Ms. Swan created a presentation for the public to see the benefits of a planetarium, and more importantly, showcase the technology. Between the meetings, 60 individuals took the next step, willing to contribute their time and energy towards the  cause.
As of now, the goal is to organize funds through donations through nonprofits like the Niantic Rotary or Lions Club, but Ms. Swan also hopes to procure funds through fundraisers.
“If the money goes through non-profits, it will be earmarked for the planetarium only. Otherwise if I were to raise say $200,000, the Board of Education could move those funds into transportation if they saw a greater need in that area” said Ms. Swan.
So far she is not able to reach out to any foundations because she must first get her business plan approved by the Board of Education. But this should not be a problem for Ms. Swan as she has a highly qualified partner assisting her in the business aspect: Mr. Andy Pappas. Although he may not be well known, his work precedes his name. He is largely responsible for establishing the Children’s Museum and the Niantic Bay Boardwalk.
She has also garnered support from the likes of Ed Jutila and the incumbent State Representative Holly Cheeseman.
But arguably, even more valuable to Ms. Swan’s purpose is the steady support from Superintendent Jeff Newton and Principal Michael Susi.
With their help, they discovered that the only school to have a planetarium nearby is Teacher’s Memorial School, which is only a sixth grade institution. But even they only just put theirs back online. Upon Ms. Swan’s request, Mr. Newton arranged for a tour of the school in the coming months in order for the three of them to see how the refurbishments have come along.
But the planetarium is only part of the Ms. Swan’s vision.
“The planetarium will serve as a prelude for what I really want to do, which is integrate regional STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) programming into the school,” said Ms. Swan.
“Say a group of adult’s want to get their boater’s license. Once they do, they could bring their knowledge back to the planetarium and look for constellations in the night sky and critical stars for navigation. Or for health and anatomy, students could use it to delve into the human body down to the bones, tissues and even cells,”
According to Ms. Swan, this program would be completely open to the public in addition to the ELHS community at large. And, it would be fully self-sufficient like the high school pool, requiring no tax dollars. She hopes that the planetarium’s unlimited applications can be used to bring together the East Lyme community and the district as a whole.
“It would be a travesty for future generations not to see this, especially when ELHS alumni are crediting the planetarium for the reason they decided to go into their specific field of study,” concluded Ms. Swan.

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