Arlington to Save, Refurbish County Planetarium

Just a quick note to follow up on a story I told you about last summer. The Arlington County, Va., schools superintendent announced last night in his annual budget request to County leaders that he is dropping plans to close the David M. Brown Planetarium in the Washington suburb.

The reversal comes after community organizers landed more than $286,000 in private donations in an ad hoc local effort to save the planetarium. “Fund-raising has been extremely successful,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy told School Board members. “We’ll be able to move forward here with a renovation.”

As I noted before, I am more than a casual observer on this story. I live in the county and am married to one of its teachers. Obviously, I also work for Aviation Week in Washington where I have a front-row view on the nation’s ongoing debate over whether and how to fund and promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Arlington knows the value of STEM education and jobs – it’s why the county lobbied so hard in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process to keep the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other military research jobs in the close-in suburb (also home to the Pentagon) when thousands of other defense jobs are getting shifted outside of Arlington. But still, several people were aghast at the county leadership’s willingness to forego the center, as well as its brashness in telling residents to raise additional money (as in beyond tax payments) if they wanted to keep it.

Indeed, in my On Space post last June, when the recession was still more biting than the slow recovery is now, I asked whether it was worth donating your own money to help save the center or whether it was just another good cause that must be sacrificed in austere times.

With Save the Arlington Planetarium organizers expecting to raise more than $322,000 before April, the community has answered: yes.


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