Evanston Township High School was one of the first in the nation to construct a planetarium for use of students in science courses in 1967. The facility is now in need of an upgrade that will be financed entirely by contributions to the school’s educational foundation and will result in one that is available for additional uses by the general public.
The ETHS District 202 School Board discussed its capital needs for the next five years at its regular monthly meeting this week and approved some $680,000 in foundation funds to pay for planetarium renovations next year.
The school currently has five classes a day in astronomy, as the popularity of the class has exploded.
But school officials contend that astronomy students will not be the only beneficiaries of the upgrade.
With a new 3D projection system, for example, biology students will be able to virtually move through the chambers of the heart, a computer class could code a 360-degree virtual environment, or a humanities class could take a virtual interactive tour through a medieval cathedral.
The current projection, lighting, sound, and seating systems in the planetarium are to be replaced, and a second system to be installed in the astronomy classroom will allow students to build shows and projects that can be directly transferred to the planetarium and also serve as a backup for the main system.
The new IMAX capabilities will be available for use by the community for a whole host of events, according to school officials.
The board approved a $29 million five-year capital improvement plan as well as funding in the amount of $6.3 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year that is partially funded by a transfer of $4.9 million of excess cash from the district’s Operations and Maintenance Fund.
Other projects funded in the $6.3 million allocation would be the Advanced Manufacturing Lab, a permanent location for the Geometry in Construction building site, phone system upgrades, cooling tower renovations, and enhancements to the Lake Street tennis courts.
There was some discussion of the propriety of spending the entire O&M Fund excess in one year, but Superintendent Eric Witherspoon pointed out that construction costs continue to rise year after year, which means the projects would cost less now than if deferred to later years.
Board member Bill Geiger recommended that the board develop a five-year funding plan that “matches the specificity” of the spending plan.
District finance officer William Stafford agreed that such an exercise would be valuable for the district, particularly once the new administration in Springfield makes known its plans for dealing with shortfalls in the state budget.
In the meantime, he noted that contributions raised through the educational foundation have consistently yielded some $700,000 to $900,000 a year that the school has been able to utilize for capital expenditures.
Top: An architectural rendering of a new permanent facility for the Geometry in Construction building site.