Palomar College Planetarium Opening

March 9, 2012 – Imagine the universe so close you could reach out and touch a passing star. You are part of a new world and not just as an observer from the ground. You are a member of the galactic community connecting with a heavenly body that once could only be observed from Earth. Imagination is part of the experience at Palomar College’s new Planetarium. Nancy Chadwick, a governing board member, fondly expressed her admiration for the new facility by saying, “It is truly a sparkling gem. We’re in the middle of the Renaissance (of the campus) so it’s highly appropriate to highlight it.”

Palomar College’s connection to the worlds beyond began more than fourty years ago when the original planetarium was constructed and neighbored the performing arts facility towards the front of the campus. As the campus and the county’s population grew the need for a larger, more sophisticated facility equipped with more powerful and functional technological resources became apparently clear. “This magnificent facility is not just for students,” said Palomar governing board President Darrell McMullen. “It is to be experienced by every student in San Diego County as they come through by the busload. It is a marvel for families who come here in the evening, and an educational opportunity for all.” Governing Board Member Paul McNamara said the planetarium will expand the study of history and geography, as students learn how ancient cultures viewed the stars. And it will help the college promote the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, known as the STEM fields. “I think that the planetarium will be a great thing to capture the imaginations of young students, and perhaps guide them down a math/science track,” he said. “Who knows? In North County there may be a (future) Nobel Prize physicist that we don’t even know about. And he or she may get their start at Palomar College.” Governing board member Paul McNamara said the study of the cosmos extends beyond astronomy into folklore, mythology and other fields. He said he can’t wait to bring his own infant daughter to the planetarium when she’s older. “It’s not just about learning about the stars,” he said. “You’re learning about history and culture. And you stimulate the imagination.”

Located in a free-standing building with a burnished, iridescent steel roof, the planetarium replaces an older one that was part of the former science complex at the college. The projection technology is updated and the capacity has been nearly doubled to 150 seats. “It’s the most complicated 6,300 square feet you’ll ever see,” said Mark Lane, a professor in the Earth, Space and Aviation program. “It’s like a Swiss watch.”

Lane shared his thanks to the numerous members of the college, district, and architectural/construction team that enabled the facility to become a reality.  Mr. Lane was especially complimentary of Gary Moon, tBP/Architecture’s Director of Design, and the designer of the Planetarium.  Mark shared, “Gary listened, he asked detailed questions, and he responded with amazing ideas that even challenged me.  Working with Gary and his team has been a complete joy.  I would do it again in a heartbeat if I ever have the chance to design another facility.”

A recording studio allows the college to produce its own star shows, and eight speakers located around the dome provide ambient sound. A Digistar 4 projection system uses 10 computers to produce visual images in full color and real time images, instantly creating images of stars and planets.

The Earth, Space and Aviation Sciences program may also partner with the college’s award-winning television department, or its graphic design and computer animation programs, to produce shows. “Essentially, the sky’s the limit,” Lane said. “We can design whatever our imagination will take.”

Visitors can view the sky through telescopes outside the planetarium after the show. Tickets priced at $5 to $7 will be available for purchase at the door or online. “My goal was to be cheaper than a movie theater,” Lane said. Besides offering affordable entertainment, officials said they hope the school and family visits will spark kids’ interest in science.

Project Statistics:
Client:  Palomar Community College District
Services Provided:  Programming, Design and Architecture
Project Location:  San Marcos, CA
Project Size:  6,300 sf
Theater seats:  150
Construction Technology:  Revit 2009
Contractor:  Swinerton Builders
Completion Date:  March 2012
Sustainability:  Savings by Design – San Diego Gas and Electric Companies Sustainable Community energy usage reduction and conservation programs
Functions: Lobby, Box Office, Planetarium/Instructional Space, Editing Room, Recording Room, Director’s Office, Display Area and outdoor Telescope Viewing Plaza

Unique Features:

  • Planetarium serves as the primary gateway to the community
  • Facility serves to teach students at every turn
    • Courtyard teaches about planetary positioning and the paths of comets in 2 and 3-D
    • Canopy creates a kinetic representation of planetary motion through perforated holes
    • 50 ft. tilted dome
    • Stepped theater venue which sits below a tilted perforated dome upon which the shows are projected
    • Theater will immerse the theater goers in an omnipresent, all encompassing, ever-changing experience
    • CMAA San Diego Chapter award winner for outstanding project