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Fairfax County Schools' Planetarium Shut Down Indefinitely

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The planetarium at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Fairfax County is now used as classroom space.
Michael Pope
The planetarium at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Fairfax County is now used as classroom space.

Class is in session at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Fairfax County, but the planetarium in the school's building is dark. Principal Terrence Yarborough says it's been mothballed indefinitely.

"The planetarium of not part of the seventh or eight grade curriculum," he says.

Through the door, up the stairs and down the hall, Yarborough heads toward what was a planetarium, now being used as a classroom. It was originally built as part of Fort Hunt High School. But now the building has become Carl Sandburg Middle School, which is about to start a $45 million renovation. But the planetarium is not included in the renovation. That would cost another $257,000, which so far isn't in the plan.

"What are we going to do in a planetarium? I mean you could have some programs in there," he says. "But, that I really don t know."

Some parents are frustrated by the school system's reluctance to invest more funds in the planetarium.

"I'm really not happy," says Jeanne O'Hara, parent of an eighth grader. She says letting the planetarium go would be a mistake. "I think it's just such a waste of a resource in this county."

When the renovation is completed, school officials say the planetarium will become a storage closet.

"My reaction to that, is that it's nonsense," says Del. Scott Surovell, who represents Fort Hunt in the Virginia House of Delegates. "There are nine planetariums in Fairfax County, and there's one of them that doesn't t work, and it's in the part of the county that needs it the most."

That's because the school has a high proportion of black, Hispanic, and lower income students, who might benefit from science education.

"The School Board is taking a very myopic view of the planetarium, saying that it's only something seventh and eighth graders will use," says Surovell. "That's a convenient excuse, but it's not a very valid one."

For now, school officials say, the planned renovation is moving forward, without the planetarium.

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