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Posted on Sat, Dec 8, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

New Pioneer planetarium computer system approved as student calls for increased use

By Danielle Arndt


Argus Planetarium Director Ron Robinson, pictured here in December 2011, is eager to get the planetarium up and running effectively again, district spokeswoman Liz Margolis said at Wednesday's school board meeting.

Janet Miller | For

The Ann Arbor Board of Education gave the green light for district officials to purchase the $65,000 Digistar 5 computer program that will run the newly named Argus IMRA Planetarium at Pioneer High School.

The board approved the purchase at Wednesday’s meeting. Also during the meeting, a Pioneer High School sophomore, Nicholas Liu, talked about how he would like to see AAPS introduce an astronomy class to complement the planetarium and to offer less restrictive public viewing hours to make the planetarium self-sustaining — “or even profitable,” he said.

Liu attended Wednesday’s meeting as a representative of the Youth Senate. The Youth Senate is afforded the opportunity to have one or two members speak at each regular school board meeting. The students can talk about topics that pique their interests.

Liu said his favorite elementary and middle school field trips were to the planetarium.

The planetarium currently can be reserved for a group of 15 people at a cost of $5 per person. But Lui said he was prevented from visiting the planetarium outside of school because he could not find 15 people to go with him.

“This can be solved by having public viewing hours or shows where there is no minimum required number of people. The event also can charge per person to earn revenue to help with its own maintenance,” he said.

The Digistar 5 computer system that will operate the Pioneer planetarium will be purchased with $100,000 donation that IMRA, a global company specializing in ultrafast fiber laser technology, made last month. The Digistar 5 will replace the current Digistar 3, which has been failing for about a year.

With the board’s approval, the district intends to purchase the new operating system before the end of the year, with installation planned for late January or early February.

“We are eager to get the planetarium back online and to hold a celebration of the co-naming. … IMRA is looking forward to coming over and seeing the new things that are being done with the planetarium,” said AAPS spokeswoman Liz Margolis.

Trustee Susan Baskett asked if there would need to be any district money allocated to repairing the planetarium. Margolis said not in year one. In year two, AAPS will use the remaining IMRA donation to replace the cove lighting that surrounds the planetarium dome. There also will be costs for new signage and, after the $100,000 donation was made, the planetarium's projector also broke down, which will be an additional expense that was not accounted for in the original plan for the donation money.

Margolis said for this school year, the plan is simply to purchase the new Digistar system. The district may need to help fund the projector or expand the operational hours of the planetarium, she said.

“We’ll know that much better after we install the new computer system. There could be some costs in the second year.”

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Linda Peck

Sun, Dec 9, 2012 : 12:02 a.m.

I think the money was obtained through a donation From IMRA, which seems quite wonderful to me. I would like to see this in action sometime. I hope there will be a follow-up article after the software is up and running, and there are perhaps public viewing hours posted. Thank you, Danielle Arndt, for publishing this article!


Sat, Dec 8, 2012 : 7:20 p.m.

Uh huh. That money was used from the cut funding of the Pioneer Choir. Gee what else are they going to cut to fund something else. If they have the money for this then they need to restore the money lost from the choir program. Otherwise, BOE robbed Peter to pay Paul. Nice going AAPS BOE.

Elijah Shalis

Sat, Dec 8, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

This is great news. I remember a field trip there from Huron High School.