OCC prepares to launch planetarium construction

Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa plans to break ground next week on a new planetarium that will include an interactive exhibit hall and a presentation room with a 40-foot-tall dome and seating for 125.

The facility, on the former site of another planetarium, also will feature a Foucault pendulum that demonstrates Earth's rotation and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Science on a Sphere display globe that will show animations of the planet.

A $16.4-million construction bid for the planetarium will be up for approval by the Coast Community College District board of trustees next Wednesday, the day before the scheduled groundbreaking.

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The planetarium, a project under the board-approved Vision 2020 plan to renovate some facilities at Orange Coast and build new ones, is expected to be completed in 18 months.

"It will provide opportunities for elementary students, college students and the general public to be totally immersed in exciting and engaging experiences which are part of the college's emphasis on all aspects of scientific endeavor," district board President David Grant said in a statement. "Suffice to say, after eight years of planning and preparation, we are thrilled to be underway."

A bus drop-off zone for planetarium visitors is part of the construction plan, according to Doug Bennett, executive director of the OCC Foundation.

A $1-million grant from Base II, a Costa Mesa-based company, will fund a telescope farm outside the planetarium.

The former planetarium was built in the 1950s and could seat about 30 visitors, Bennett said.

"They would do shows in the dome, but it was very small and it had an older-style projection system," said Tara Giblin, dean of Orange Coast's math and science division. "It's probably been at least 10 years since it stopped being operational."

The old planetarium was torn down in May to make way for the new one, which Giblin believes will give students more than science classes.

"Students could participate during shows for elementary students, volunteer as a docent or help with planning events under the guidance of a director," Giblin said. "I believe the value for all students will be that. It's the hands-on experience in what it's like to be in a larger enterprise."

After the planetarium opens, Bennett said, the college will hope to integrate activities for other divisions, such as the neurodiagnostic program, and for film, video and music programs to produce shows. The facility's display globe also could help students in the aviation training program understand weather around the world, he said.

"There are lots of different programs that could use this — some we might not even know about until it opens," Bennett said. "Our first priority is that [the] astronomy [program] gets the first crack at it. Then we'll build from there."

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Alex Chan, alexandra.chan@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10

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