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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

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University Of Guam’s Planetarium May Be Closed Down
Administration reviewing facility’s relation to academic mission

By Brett Kelman

HAGTA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan .9, 2013) – The University of Guam (UOG) is considering closing the island's only planetarium so it can be converted into classroom space for other science programs.

The planetarium will stay open at least through the spring semester, but the university may close the facility sometime after that, said UOG spokesman Jonas Macapinlac.

Macapinlac said the university doesn't offer degrees in astronomy or astrophysics, so UOG leadership is reviewing how the planetarium "aligns with our academic mission." The closure would be intended to create space -- not to save money.

"The university does not expect to realize significant savings," Macapinlac wrote in an email. "However, the space and facilities can be converted to additional classrooms or labs that can be used to supplement our courses and programs in the sciences, specifically the biology program."

Macapinlac said the final decision belongs to UOG President Robert Underwood.

About 8,000 to 10,000 people attend a show at the planetarium each year, said Pam Eastlick, who has been planetarium coordinator for 20 years.

Most of the planetarium attendees come from school field trips, but the facility also hosts public showings three nights per month. Showings for special groups and tourism groups round out the rest of the attendance, Eastlick said.

The government purchased the current planetarium machinery in the early 1990s, but there has been a planetarium at UOG since the science building was built in 1969, Eastlick said.

Eastlick said Monday that she is puzzled by the plan to close the planetarium, which really doesn't demand that much money or space.

"Quite frankly, I cannot understand the motivation," Eastlick said.

The planetarium occupies one large room in the second floor of the UOG science building.

To free up the room, the university is also considering donating the planetarium machinery to the new Guam museum, which hasn't been built yet, Eastlick said. The room would need to be heavily renovated before it could become a classroom, Eastlick said.

Maintenance of the planetarium machinery is covered by a trust fund, so the operational budget of the facility consists of Eastlick's salary -- about $60,000 a year -- plus expenses for electricity and air conditioning.

The trust fund was established with GovGuam money when the planetarium was purchased in the early '90s. The trust fund money can be used only to maintain the facility, so the money in the fund has grown since the fund was created, Eastlick said. There is most likely about $500,000 in the fund, Eastlick said.

All planetarium shows are free, with the exception of the tourism group shows, which cost about $10 per person, Eastlick said. The law that purchased the planetarium in the early '90s established that, since the facility was bought with public funds, the people of Guam should never pay for attendance, Eastlick said.

For the planetarium to start charging for attendance, the Legislature would have to amend the law, Eastlick said.

"But I suspect that if you did that, it would effectively whack the attendance," Eastlick said. "And that apparently is the consensus of the powers that be, that doing that would really cause the attendance to go into the sewer."

Eastlick noted that the UOG facility is one of the most isolated planetariums in the world. If the UOG facility closes, a local resident would have to travel to the Philippines, Japan or Hawaii to visit another planetarium, she said.

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