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ArlingtonEducationThe ultimate survivor: Arlington planetarium back in service

The ultimate survivor: Arlington planetarium back in service

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What a long, strange, cosmic trip it’s been. But the Arlington school system’s David M. Brown Planetarium is finally, formally, back in action.

County leaders and advocates gathered Jan. 28 for a rededication of the facility, located on North Quincy Street adjacent to Washington-Liberty High School.

The planetarium had been closed to accommodate work on the former Education Center building, which was repurposed into an annex for Washington-Liberty. For a time, it was an open question whether the school system’s leadership would reopen the sky-gazing facility.

But return it has, along with a new director and a new Digistar 7 projection system, which is described as a major improvement over the existing digital projector and computer system.


The planetarium dates to the 1960s, and while perhaps not quite as beloved as the Arlington Outdoor Lab, has attracted legions of supporters through the decades.

And like the Outdoor Lab, it more than once has been on the budgetary chopping block.

In 2010, the school system’s then-superintendent, Patrick Murphy, proposed the planetarium’s closure in order to cut costs and because, he intimated in what to planetarium boosters was an act of heresy, it was a relic of a bygone era.

Murphy’s proposal proved a rookie mistake by a rookie superintendent who had not yet quite divined that Arlington’s school system ran slightly differently than in Fairfax County, where he previously had served as an administrator.

The community rallied; School Board and County Board members were put on the spot by an outraged public; and Murphy gave in, but the School Board extracted its pound of flesh – requiring a friends-of-the-lanetarium group to fund half the cost of an $800,000 renovation, completed in 2012.

After that battle, county residents showed their support for the little planetarium that could by choosing it as the subject of the county government’s 2017-18 vehicle decal.

The image, by Wakefield High School student Amy Kohan, was selected in a community vote from among more than 200 submissions by Arlington high-schoolers, and was displayed for a year on the windshields of the more than 160,000 vehicles of Arlington residents.

The current superintendent, Francisco Durán, wisely has opted against any further skirmish with planetarium boosters. While off-limits for the duration of the nearby construction work and then due to COVID, the planetarium was not marked for elimination.

In 2008, the School Board named the planetarium in honor of David Brown, a 1974 Yorktown High School graduate who went on to become a physician, U.S. Navy aviator and astronaut. Brown was among those killed in 2003 when the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas during re-entry.

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