North Star: Alabama planetarium upgrades include a new dome

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FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — A major project to repair the University of North Alabama Planetarium and Observatory should be complete by Jan. 1, officials said.

The landmark dome that covers the facility has been removed so crews can repair the concrete structure that supports its weight, The TimesDaily reported.

The repairs are needed because the concrete that supported the dome had cracked, said Michael Gautney, assistant vice president of facilities administration and planning at UNA.

“It developed this pressure crack around the base,” said Mel Blake, the planetarium-observatory director. “We were worried about safety.”

There were also problems with the original dome: It leaked, so the telescope had to be covered when it rains, Blake said.

A new $33,000 dome was manufactured in Illinois, Gautney said. It was assembled there to make sure everything worked, then taken apart and shipped to Alabama.

The observatory was constructed, and the dome put in place, in 1964.

“I always tell people we have a planetarium and observatory and (other universities) don’t,” Blake said.

“This is one of the things we can brag on,” he added. “We’re a small program, and for the university to do this investment in a small program shows they are looking out for every program on campus, not just the ones with the largest (student enrollment) numbers.”

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