The East Lyme High School's planetarium was built as an instructional classroom and operated as such until 2013. In 2016, Diane Swan, teacher and Niantic Center School’s science coordinator, learned of a plan to repurpose the space as a resource room. Disapproving of that possibility and as a former East Lyme Schools' student herself, she was determined to save this valuable asset and recreate it as a 21st century learning center.
Diane consulted community member Andy Pappas, a leader in bringing the Children’s Museum of South Eastern Connecticut and the Niantic Bay Boardwalk and Overlook to fruition. She and Andy approached the East Lyme Board of Education (BOE) at the July 17, 2017 meeting and proposed that the structure remain as-is as they developed a plan to restore it as a planetarium. Within the next few months and along with several other community members, the group developed a business plan to rebuild and operate the facility independent of BOE or taxpayer's funds. The BOE unanimously agreed to keep the dome intact and delay repurposing the room until the independent group could raise enough funds to complete the renovation and begin the operation.
In August of 2017, Diane contacted a vendor specializing in planetarium equipment and scheduled a public demonstration of the newest dome projection technology. Community interest was overwhelming with three additional shows and over 110 people attending. The result was an outpouring of excitement and support!
Later that month, a local newspaper, the Day, published an article that generated even more interest. As a result, an advisory committee was formed in September 2017. Many community members, with collective expertise, varied experiences, and a plethora of ideas, expressed a common interest in resurrecting this facility. Over the course of the next year the group developed a plan that included a detailed budget and sustainability strategies.
Representatives from this group provided a status update to the BOE in April 2018. Subsequent to State of Connecticut incorporation as STARS to STEM, the IRS followed with approval of the application for nonprofit status effective as of May 4, 2018. As a 501(c)(3) charity, STARS to STEM could aggressively pursue fundraising. To develop a strong and cohesive operation, the organization worked with well-established non-profit groups and business consultants to increase its knowledge base and improve its marketability. As a well-informed and committed organization, they created a blue-print to forge ahead.
Able to begin fundraising efforts, the organization sponsored a Launch Gala at a local country club on June 19, 2019. Several former East Lyme students spoke about their school experiences and the motivating factors that led to their career choices. Later that summer, STARS to STEM information centers conducted activities designed for children, showcased at Farmer's Markets, Lion's Club Art Show, and Celebrate East Lyme Day. While STARS to STEM concentrated its efforts on fundraising, they also developed educational programs aligned to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in association with the East Lyme Public Library and New London Public Library. These activities became the springboard of programs planned for the upcoming planetarium once restored.
Many private citizens, educational organizations, and corporations have pledged their support of this endeavor. Once the planetarium is in full operation, exciting new programs will focus on educational activities for all age groups, edutainment for community members, and training sessions for businesses and other non-profits in the region. It is with great anticipation and excitement that STARS to STEM continues on its mission "to stimulate love and excitement of scientific learning for the youngest to the oldest citizens and to enrich our community as we inspire all to reach for the stars."
ELHS Planetarium as of summer 2017
Location of school's planetarium, room A230.