‘Dream come true’: Hollidaysburg renovates, reopens planetarium

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Students have a lot to look forward to in science, geography and biology classes this year at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, and the general public, too, has the chance to experience what a reopened planetarium has to offer.

The first public sky show is planned for Sept. 20. More details are to come, school officials said.

More than 100 planetarium supporters experienced a special show at the planetarium Wednesday. Hushed “wows” came from the viewers as former planetarium director Fred Marschak and current director Rick Imler guided them through constellations, the cosmic origins of the solar system and the geography of the earth.

Without a concerted fundraising effort by the community to collect $107,000, the district would not have the 2.4k laser projection system with full HD quality.

Superintendent Bob Gildea said the people leading the campaign to save the once defunct planetarium are “heroes.” They include both former planetarium directors, Marschak (who was director from 1970-77), Robert Gaydis (director from 1978-2010) and Imler, who takes the reins as director this fall. All three attended a reopening celebration at the planetarium Wednesday.

Gaydis traveled from North Carolina for the celebration.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” he said.

The original 1970 planetarium system lasted for decades but fell into disrepair in the mid-2000s. Imler urged the district administration to try to keep it running and continued using the old equipment until it completely broke down, Gildea said.

Imler inspired one student in particular, Nathan Stull, who spread the word and led a fundraising campaign in 2015 to purchase a new projector and lighting for future generations of students.

Area businesses, charities and foundations contributed to a planetarium committee led by Imler, Stull and district foundation director Jodie Albarano, who specializes in fundraising for the district.

The committee raised more than $107,000. And the school board promised to double each dollar raised, up to $85,000 for a total of $170,000 paid by the school board to complete the purchase of the equipment.

State Rep. Judy Ward, Hollidaysburg Mayor Joe Dodson and Blair Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joe Hurd were among the dozens attending Wednesday.

Before the ribbon cutting, Stull reflected on the fundraising journey that made it possible.

“Tonight is about the community members who helped this crazy dream come true,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.