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LUMBERTON – A culmination of the perseverance and determination of many has brought Robeson County Public Schools one step closer to obtaining a state-of-the-art planetarium.

The first NC budget signed by Governor Roy Cooper in years provided millions of dollars for Robeson County, but Robeson Planetarium Science Center local director Kenneth Brandt is focusing more on the $ 5 million pledged to build a installation.

“Shock” and “admiration” more precisely, are the words used to describe his reaction to the news.

“I was like, ‘Really, he did it? “” Said Brandt.

In March, Senator Danny Britt first placed the funding item in the Senate budget proposal, but it was removed during negotiations. A version was then presented to the House by Rep. Charles Graham, and that version is ultimately what became law, Brandt said.

“I was very happily surprised that he made it through negotiations. All of these things had to happen where we are today. Brandt said. “Without them, it would be nothing. “

The fight for a new planetarium began shortly after floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew destroyed the facility, located next to the former Robeson County Central Office public schools on Caton Road, in October 2016. This rendered the building unusable and destroyed the searchlight, which displays the night sky in light on a dome-shaped ceiling.

“The flooding happened about 12 hours after it stopped raining. The river receded and it overflowed onto the banks, ”Brandt said. “When it was all done, there was about 3 feet of water in the planetarium and science center.”

The flooding damaged everything except a few items on the tables and shelves, Brandt said.

Determined to bring the 50-year-old planetarium program back online, Brandt was able to purchase an inflatable dome and projector the following year with help from the county school board.

“It took me about nine months to get my program back on track,” Brandt said. “I have enthusiastic support with my administration. They were rock solid to me.

The portable planetarium found a new home at The Children’s Partnership on Chestnut Street in Lumberton before moving to Janie C. Hargrave’s former cafeteria in January 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and operations began. are not made virtual. Today the doors are open to the public again.

“We have a little semblance of what we used to have,” Brandt said. “I like to compare it to a Star Trek analogy where we run a shuttle instead of a spaceship. We are still able to travel in space. We can’t put 400 crew on a shuttle, you can only take one class at a time but that’s okay. For now, it will be fine.

“We are working very hard to make sure that the experience the children are having at this time is really good because for a lot of the children this is their first time out on the pitch,” Brandt added.

A select group of people interested in seeing a new planetarium, including members of the nonprofit Rising Phoenix and Chancellor Robin Cummings, have already visited planetariums and science centers across the state to get an idea of ​​what a new installation might look like.

Location and design will be some of the initial issues discussed for the future planetarium, still in the early stages of development. One of the main decisions will be where he will go.

“There is still a lot to understand now. We’re still in the early stages, ”Brandt said.

What Brandt is “immediately” about is not to reconstruct the space in its original location, which is now considered a flood zone.

The Robeson County Public School Building Committee will ultimately make that decision.

“I hope to see a state of the art planetarium system – something that Robeson County and this region can be proud of,” Brandt said.

The idea is for the new center to be a commodity for school districts across the region, not just in Robeson County. Superintendents in the region have expressed their support.

“The Planetarium and Science Center provide opportunities to participate in and advance STEM educational experiences for students and citizens of Southeastern North Carolina.”

– Dr. Freddie Williamson, Superintendent – Robeson County Public Schools

“Schools in Bladen County would be very interested in our students using this facility. I am also very much in favor of the reconstruction of the planetarium and the science center in our region.

– Dr. Jason Atkinson, Superintendent – Bladen County Schools

“I checked with the education coaches in the district and they think we would be able to use this type of resource with our students. We would be in favor of the planetarium and the science center. We continue to seek out STEM-focused experiences for our students. “

– Deanne Meadows, Superintendent – Columbus County Schools

“Our district would greatly benefit from a new state-of-the-art planetarium and science center. “

– Takeda LeGrand, Ed.D., EJD, Superintendent – County Schools of Scotland

“We would use this facility and we are supporting this facility that will serve the Sandhills area.”

– Jeffrey B. Maples, Ed.D., Superintendent – Richmond County Schools

“I expect Hoke County students to use a new planetarium and science center through possible field trips, virtual lessons and events, projects, etc.” I am supporting a new planetarium and science center to serve the Sandhills region. ”

– Dr. Debra Dowless, Superintendent – Hoke County Schools