Penn State Behrend will operate a new, expanded Erie Planetarium, which will be located in the School of Science complex. The system, which includes a projector and a 30-foot fiberglass dome, will be moved from the Watson-Curtze property on West Sixth Street, where it has operated since 1959, sometime in the first half of 2014.
The planetarium’s current director, Jim Gavio, will continue to develop astronomy programs for the system. He will be a Penn State employee.
The Erie County Historical Society purchased the Watson-Curtze property in 2000. The planetarium, housed in a carriage house, never quite fit within the society’s larger mission, which is to preserve Erie County history, said Caleb Pifer, the society’s executive director.
“Nothing’s more dangerous for a nonprofit than straying outside the outline of your mission,” Pifer said. “And the planetarium just isn’t a good fit for us.”
He plans to repurpose the carriage house as part of a $1.2 million renovation of the society’s museum and archives. That work should be completed by 2015.
An on-campus planetarium will boost the science programs at Penn State Behrend, said John Magenau, interim senior associate dean for academic affairs.
“It’s a great fit for Penn State Behrend, where we already have a strong astronomy program,” he said.