Columbia Basin College today is $50,000 closer to building a planetarium on its Pasco campus.
The college today will announce the large donation for its latest building project. It is the first money paid out by the recently formed HAPO/Windermere Tri-Cities Community Enrichment Foundation.
The planetarium is expected to cost $1.2 million, which will come from donations and loans.
Once completed, which could be as early as one year from now, the planetarium will be used to draw more students into science and engineering fields, said Mike Durst, who will be the director of the new facility. He also heads up the Moore Observatory on campus.
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The planetarium also will be a key component for CBC's new astronomy program, a collaboration with Heritage University. And it will feature entertainment for the general public, from 3-D shark documentaries to laser shows, Durst said.
At the heart of the planetarium is a30-foot dome that acts as a projection screen. The dome will rise above the current N building, which is near the north end of the Pasco campus, by Argent Road.
The projector inside the dome will be connected to computers that can capture images from -- and even remotely move -- the Moore Observatory's telescope, Durst said. This means students can watch and analyze live images of the night sky from inside the planetarium.
They also can examine how the stars are aligned in the sky from computer images when cloudy weather would not allow them to do so through a telescope.
And the planetarium will offer students a chance to see the night sky as it's seen from other points on Earth, or as it looked at a certain time in the past.
The new facility will fill the gap between CBC's two other star-gazing devices -- the Moore Observatory and the former Rattlesnake Mountain telescope, which is getting a new home near Wallula Gap, Durst said.
The observatory on campus is designed to teach the first steps of using a telescope and the new facility in Walla Walla County will be used for research by students in their last year of the astronomy program.
"The planetarium allows us to do a littlebit of both," Durst said.
The hope is that a multimedia center showing films on a 30-foot screen will help "get kids excited about science before they're entering college," he said.
High school students taking Running Start courses on campus might visit the planetarium and decide to pursue the new bachelor's program in astronomy, for example.
A degree in astronomy can lead to jobs in the aerospace industry. But almost more importantly, the program leads to a "really strong, broad-based science degree," Durst said.
And that's in line with CBC's mission to further education in science, technology, engineering and math -- or STEM -- in the Mid-Columbia, he said.
That's why spending $1.2 million on the project is worthwhile, said Bob Rosselli, head of the CBC Foundation, which is paying half of the costs.
Including today's donation, the foundation has collected half of the $600,000 it will contribute to the planetarium, Rosselli said. It hopes to have the rest of its contribution by the end of this year.
For the remaining project costs, CBC will take out a $500,000 loan from the state, and the Associated Student Body will contribute $100,000, Rosselli said.
The $50,000 donation marks the first significant pay-out by the HAPO/Windermere Tri-Cities Community Enrichment Foundation, said Dave Schulz, president and CEO of HAPO.
The foundation he co-founded is only a month old, he said. Its purpose is to support "tangible projects in the community" related to health care and education, he said.
"We think (the planetarium) is a great project and a terrific addition to the college," Schulz said.
-- Jacques Von Lunen: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org