The planetarium at ELHS was once a shining star of the East Lyme community, but has recently fallen into dilapidated shape. However, a nonprofit corporation is looking to restore the planetarium to a state-of-the-art center, tentatively, as soon as the 2021-2022 school year.
STARS to STEM, Inc. is led by president Diane Swan, a Niantic Center School teacher, who was immediately concerned after learning that the planetarium would be taken offline following the 2016-2017 school year.
“As a first grader, I got to experience the planetarium in its hay-day, with Mr. Bloom being the astronomy teacher. He presented this incredible program that sparked my curiosity in science,” said Ms. Swan. “Taking my kids to the planetarium in 2017 and thinking of how wonderful it was, I walked in and thought, ‘Wait a minute, where did everything go?’ It was devastating.”
From there, Ms. Swan contacted a state representative to ask what could be done to keep the planetarium in STEM education and decided to pursue the vision of restoration.
A full presentation was given to the Board of Education in a July 2017 meeting, and shortly following that, four shows were held with 110 people in total attendance to serve as a preview for the various educational and enrichment resources the planetarium will provide once online.
Ms. Swan argues that now is the perfect time to begin this project because of the global surge of conservational efforts.
“It’s imperative that we start making STEM education hands-on instead of skill and drill, especially if we as a country want to remain a front-runner in climate change technology and space exploration,” said Ms. Swan.
Fundraising remains the biggest obstacle for the nonprofit. While the renovations haven’t begun yet, the Board of Education has agreed to hold the room for STARS to STEM, Inc. until the funding phase is finished. In the meantime, the room is used by ELHS.
“We are trying to raise the funds to get the projector so that we can get [the planetarium] up and running,” said Ms. Swan. “For us, attending the East Lyme Farmer’s Markets and Celebrate East Lyme Day has been important in marketing our mission so we can get the support we need.”
When the renovation is complete, the vision is that the planetarium will be leased by STARS to STEM, Inc. to ELHS, and that it will have its own educators working in conjunction with the high school to restore the curiosity for space in the community.