Minneapolis planetarium a step closer to reality

Downtown Minneapolis is one step closer to having a new planetarium, after the Hennepin County Board budget committee gave approval Tuesday to help fund the project. In a 5-2 vote, the committee approved providing up to $250,000 a year in operating budget support for the planetarium, which will be located at the top of the Minneapolis Central Library. The full board will vote at an October meeting. The funding is also contingent on financial support from the Minneapolis City Council. Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said he voted to support the resolution because the planetarium will be an educational asset for the region and the state. âÄúNow is not the time to turn back,âÄù he said. Objecting commissioners didnâÄôt think the board should fund a project that would seemingly only benefit Minneapolis, Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein, who voted in favor, said. However, Stenglein said that this is no different from other projects the county has been involved in, like the new Twins stadium. âÄúThe people that voted against it do not represent any part of Minneapolis,âÄù Steinglein said. âÄúThey are short-sighted in thinking that people in their districts wonâÄôt use the planetarium.âÄù TuesdayâÄôs vote was an important step on the road to building the new planetarium, but there is still more to be done to secure necessary funding, said Lawrence Rudnick, a University astronomy professor and member of the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Planetarium Society . âÄúRight now, weâÄôre the only metro area without a large, modern planetarium in the U.S.,âÄù Rudnick said. Although the state has already committed $22 million to the project, Lawrence said, the planetarium society will be responsible for raising another $18 million to $19 million to make the planetarium a reality. Those close to the project said they believe the financial goals are attainable. Minnesota Planetarium Society Board Member Frank Parisi said he is eager to have a planetarium back in the metro, as the old facility has been closed for four years. âÄúItâÄôs been a long wait, and itâÄôs very good news for us,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be a great family-friendly learning facility in the community for everyone.âÄù University students and faculty will be able to use the new planetarium for learning opportunities that lecture halls canâÄôt provide, Rudnick said. Martha Boyer , an astrophysics graduate student and former astronomy outreach coordinator, said the planetarium will be useful for outreach programs at local schools to get students excited about astronomy. âÄúIf students in Minneapolis and St. Paul want to see the stars, they have to go almost an hour out of the city,âÄù she said. âÄúBut with a planetarium they can at least see what they are supposed to look like.âÄù McLaughlin said people of all ages will be able to benefit from a planetarium. âÄúThis is not your fatherâÄôs or my fatherâÄôs planetarium,âÄù he said. âÄúThis is a 21st century planetarium.âÄù A slideshow about the plans for the planetarium can be found here: http://www.mplanetarium.org/slides/slide1.htm