The planetarium was closed in May, 1998 as part of the renovation of Clifford Pierce Middle School. The planetarium began giving limited shows in late January, 1999, and resumed full programming in late March. Below is a brief description of some of the changes:
Pierce Middle School
Pierce Middle School is home to the planetarium. The last renovation of Pierce occurred in 1972-73. During the current renovation, the oldest part of Pierce — the part that used to be Merrillville High School — was demolished. The demolition made room for a huge addition to the school — doubling the square footage of the remaining old building. Every academic classroom is in the new addition to the building. The addition also includes a new cafeteria, second gym, main entrance, art and shop classrooms. All of the remaining old building (including the planetarium) has been completely renovated.
Location of the Planetarium
The planetarium is in exactly the same location and has remained the same size as before the renovation. However, because of the addition of a new main entrance to the building, the planetarium can be accessed more directly from the outside.
People coming to the planetarium will enter from the west side of Pierce (the side closest to Broadway). The public can park their cars and buses can let out groups at the main entrance. After a short walk down a new main corridor, visitors go up a large stairway to the second floor. A new passenger elevator is right next to the stairway for anyone who can’t walk up the steps. Once on the second floor, you’re only a few steps away from the planetarium entrance. Restrooms and water fountains are near the stairway and planetarium entrance.
Model of Space Shuttle
The new main entrance to Pierce is a beautiful two-story foyer. Hanging from the ceiling of the foyer is a one-tenth scale model of the space shuttle Endeavour. Just down the hall from the planetarium entrance is a balcony overlooking the foyer and shuttle model. The shuttle was built by a local cub scout pack who donated it to Pierce and the planetarium.
Just inside the planetarium entrance, an area has been renovated to serve as a gift shop. Orion’s Trading Post offers a wide variety of space and astronomy related merchandise, including posters, t-shirts, and astronaut (freeze-dried) ice cream. Proceeds from the gift shop are used to support planetarium programming.
The Waiting Area outside the planetarium has been renovated to provide an enclosed space separate from the adjacent hallway. Since the Waiting Area is now enclosed from the hallway, it can be used as an instructional space. The area is equipped with a video projector, screen, and marker board. New display cases will be used to exhibit models and artifacts. And, there are four interactive displays that will house a weather station, computers, satellite receiver, and other interactive activities when completed. The Waiting Area also includes a section of wall with hooks for coats and folding tables will be available for visiting groups that bring sack lunches.
The risers or stepped seating in the planetarium has been removed — no more steps to trip on in the dark! Instead, our new seats are all mounted at the same floor level. Since the risers have been removed, the dome has be lowered by ten inches and a small stage has been constructed at the front of the theater. A new wall has been built at the front — the only entrances and exits are now in the two rear corners of the room. While we have preserved three big murals in the theater, we have replaced the carpet and ceiling tiles.
Our planetarium projector and control console have been completely refurbished and re-painted at the factory. The projector and console are like brand new. The console has been relocated from the northeast to northwest corner of the room.
Behind the Scene Changes
In addition to all the visible changes in the planetarium, there are also several changes occurring behind the scenes. The planetarium work area has been sub-divided into office, production, and equipment rooms. The planetarium office can now be accessed directly from the hallway without having to pass through the theater. The planetarium has gained much-needed built-in storage cabinets.