A planetarium in St. George? It’s an idea that’s gaining momentum.

Large Star Hall at the Moscow Planetarium, Russia, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Moscow Planetarium, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — A fascination with space has been around since the Egyptians crafted celestial objects in hieroglyphics and the constellations were depicted in globes created by the Greeks, setting the stage for the modern-day planetarium.

Interior of Eugenides Foundation planetarium, Dome of the Athens Planetarium, Athens, Greece, Sept. 25, 2006 | Photo courtesy of Eugenides Foundation via Wikimedia Commons, St. George News

Today, there are 3,000 planetariums at universities, museums and science centers across the U.S. and in over 100 countries worldwide. These facilities are traditionally constructed with a hemispheric domed ceiling that serves as a screen on which images of stars, planets and other celestial objects are projected.

If Rick Conner has his way, Southern Utah will be home to planetarium No. 3,001.

Conner is spearheading a project to build a planetarium in St. George, an idea that is gaining momentum and continues to garner a great deal of support and interest from people throughout Washington County.

Conner said the idea came to him in 2018 when he decided that he wanted to give back to the community and asked himself, “Is there anything we don’t currently have here in Southern Utah?”

That’s when he said he realized he wanted to provide a facility wherein a theater projecting images of the starry sky would both inspire and educate people of all ages, bringing a real sense of space exploration down to Earth and into the hands of the community and visitors.

Planetarium Sagano Scenic Railway Diorama, Kyoto, Japan, Dec. 24, 2012 | Photo courtesy of Planetarium Sagano via Wikimedia Commons, St. George News

Conner is not alone in the endeavor. He has support from many people with varying backgrounds, gauging from the activity on the project’s Facebook page.

Conner and his group have contacted Evans & Sutherland, the largest manufacturer of planetarium equipment in the world, asking about what equipment and building needs a planetarium would require.

They are also in the process of screening a number of local contractors to see who might be willing to donate labor and time to build different sections of the facility.

Through his efforts, the project has even captured the interest of a class of undergraduates and graduates at the University of Utah School of Architecture, where more than a dozen students have become involved in concept development and construction design options.

The students came to St. George for a planning meeting last week at the St. George Family Search Center, where Conner outlined the multimillion dollar project to city officials and others in attendance.

Points of discussion included various site options and the many benefits that a planetarium could provide, such as educational advantages for schools and new ways to enrich the community for both locals and tourists alike.

A number of the prospective planetarium’s inside features were also discussed, including the idea of building two theaters, designing an interactive exhibit area and leaving enough room for a gift shop.

After the meeting, the university students took the opportunity to canvass the area to come up with design ideas that would fit well with the local geography by viewing a number of other buildings throughout the city.

Graduates and under-graduates from the University of Utah’s architecture program are assisting with the planetarium project, St. George, Utah, Jan. 25, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Rick Conner, St. George News

The students will be involved in concept development and various construction design options, as well as studying the cultural, social, economic and environmental issues that could be impacted by the project. They will also conduct feasibility and demographic studies to ensure such a project would be successful and sustainable, said Warren Lloyd, an instructor at the University of Utah and owner of Lloyd Architects based in Salt Lake City.

“They are bringing up more questions than answers at this point, which is a good thing,” he said of the students.

Lloyd added that the project is also a win for the students, in that it provides the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom into a real-life scenario. As a final class project, each student will draft a construction design for the planetarium, which will provide examples of what the building could look like.

“These students are learning how to interface with planners, developers and other entities,” Lloyd said, “and the planetarium project provides a great opportunity for them to use what they have learned here in the real world.”

Educational opportunities

The region surrounding St. George is currently bereft of any nearby planetariums — the closest in Utah is 210 miles away in the Graham Science Center at Snow College in Ephraim. To the south, the nearest is Planetarium at CSN located 120 miles away at the College of Southern Nevada.

McMunn Planetarium at University of Pennsylvania, East Stroudsburg, Pa., Sept. 27, 2014 | Image courtesy SMCurator of Wikimedia Commons, St. George News

A facility based in Washington County could provide more frequent opportunities for area schools to engage in hands-on space education.

According to the International Planetarium Society, planetariums are among the most durable, versatile and cost-effective of educational tools. Worldwide, planetariums are the classrooms and theaters of public science education that have served countless people during the past century.

“Many of today’s leading scientists, engineers and astronauts chose their careers because they were captivated by the experience of a planetarium visit,” the Planetarium Society states.

A long road ahead

Conner’s decision to explore building a planetarium was not motivated by the desire to start a business. Instead, he said, it sprang from a desire to contribute to the Southern Utah community.

However, making his dream a reality will require an army to bring the project from conception to completion, including architects, builders and consultants with varying backgrounds and experience.

“Many have already stepped forward, and as more join our team, we will be able to get this project started,” Conner said.

Conner’s group has set up a Facebook page where site surveys, progress updates and other information can be found. Anyone interested in becoming involved can leave a message on the Facebook page or  email at [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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