Fundraising efforts on track for Arlington Planetarium

By Christy Goodman
Thursday, March 10, 2011; T18

Fundraising efforts to save the David M. Brown Planetarium in Arlington County have been successful, but the group in charge has more work to do.

The Friends of the Planetarium received a boost when School Superintendent Patrick K. Murphy made good on a promise by including one part-time employee and $230,000 in construction funding for the facility on Quincy Road in his proposed $470 million budget for next school year.

"We want the community to understand, even though funds have been set aside for the planetarium and are in the budget . . . we are not done yet," said Alice Monet, president of the Friends of the Planetarium board of directors. The group has raised more than $290,000.

Murphy had planned to stop operations and convert the facility into a classroom during last year's budget cycle before the Friends group intervened. Murphy asked the Friends to raise more than $402,000 to cover the costs of replacing the star projector and seating and make other upgrades.

"They are on target to draw that to a close," Murphy said during his budget presentation to the Arlington School Board. He congratulated the group and noted his inclusion of the money to make structural repairs and upgrade the facility for disabled people.

The Friends of the Planetarium must raise about $112,000 more by June 30.

Donations have come from community members, parent-teacher associations and businesses that have hosted fundraisers for the organization. Direct mailings, programs such as this Sunday's Kids Night at the Planetarium and monthly lectures have also generated dollars, Monet said.

Preston Caruthers, an Arlington businessman and philanthropist, donated $100,000 to help the group hit its December target with the school system. He has since joined the advisory board, Monet said.

The Children's Fund of Metropolitan Washington donated $50,000. EADS North America, General Dynamics and American Service Center, among other businesses, have all pledged support.

If the remaining funding is donated, the earliest a renovation could begin is July 1. The project would take about seven months to complete. The school system would have to go through its normal purchasing process to select contractors and equipment, said Linda Erdos, a school spokeswoman. The planetarium might need to close for renovations, she said.

"We anticipate that all of the work will be done sometime next spring," Erdos said.

Although the Friends of the Planetarium will continue to raise money, its members also will begin to work with the school system on construction planning and advising staff on planetarium technology and instructional programs.

"Now that it appears we'll be successful, we'll have to start thinking about what we are going to do," Monet said. "What will success look like at the planetarium?"

Once the capital campaign is completed, Monet said, the organization will shift to a supportive role to help sustain the facility. The group will keep fundraising for new programs, special events and technology upgrades.

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