When Central Cabarrus High School was built in 1966, the world was in the midst of a decade of firsts in outer space: First human in space, first spacewalk, first lunar satellite, all culminating in the first lunar landing in 1969.
In the spirit of the time, Central Cabarrus High School was designed to have something no other high school in North Carolina has: a planetarium.
Thanks to money from grants, the planetarium opened in 1967. For decades, students from all over the area came to Central Cabarrus to see shows there and learn about space.
It was a great school field trip because the shows were free, the programs were really cool and the students were inspired by what they learned.
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But after more than 40 years with the same equipment, the planetarium closed several years ago. There's no money available to upgrade the system, so the facility sits unused.
Now, however, a group of local folks is working hard to raise awareness and restore the planetarium. Shawn Hartsell, public relations coordinator for the high school, says it will cost $100,000 to $150,000 to make the planetarium operational again.
The planetarium is in the center of the school, and Hartsell says many students don't even know what's in the room they pass every day.
Alumni, when they learn that the planetarium is no longer working, are shocked and upset, she says. They've started sending in donations and raising money at class reunions to help with the restoration of the school's centerpiece.
Although donations are welcome, it will take a major grant to provide most of the project funding.
Hartsell and other planetarium supporters are encouraging people to contact state and federal legislators to seek their support for Central Cabarrus' planetarium. Securing a grant is a complicated process, one that can be expedited and helped by government representatives.
Hartsell said she thinks it's a shame that, while everyone was able to see a planetarium show at Central Cabarrus in the past, lots of kids now don't even know what a planetarium is. She has compiled a scrapbook on the history of Central's planetarium. The early pictures, she says, look just like the images we remember from NASA and the early days of the space program: Men in white shirts and skinny ties with crew cuts and pocket protectors.
If you'd like to help restore the planetarium at Central Cabarrus, there are a few things you can do:
Stop by and see the facility and Shawn Hartsell's scrapbook. Contact state and federal representatives. Make a donation by contacting the school, and spread the word so others will help, too.
A free planetarium, open to everybody, was an amazing feature of this unique high school in the past. Let's hope it will be again in our near future.