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. Alarmed by that possibility, this former East Lyme Schools' student was determined to save this valuable asset and reimagine it as a 21st century learning center.
Diane contacted 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 while they develop a plan to restore and upgrade it as a 21st century 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 so overwhelming that three additional shows were scheduled and over 110 people attended. The result was an outpouring of excitement and support!
Later that month a local newspaper, the Day, published an article about the potential upgrade and 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. The first step was to develop a name for the organization and apply as a non-profit business with the State of Connecticut. An application to the Internal Revenue Service was submitted in November of 2018 and approved in March of 2019, giving nonprofit status effective as of May 4, 2018. As a 501(c)(3) charity, STARS to STEM could begin fundraising. In order 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, STARS To STEM created a blue-print to forge ahead.
The newly-formed organization sponsored a Launch Gala at a local country club on June 19, 2019. Several former East Lyme students recalled their school experiences and spoke of the motivating factors that led to their career choices. Later that summer, STARS to STEM conducted activities designed for children, showcased at Farmer's Markets, Lion's Club Art Show, and Celebrate East Lyme Day. As STARS to STEM concentrated its efforts on fundraising, they developed additional 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 model for future programs.
Many private citizens, educational organizations, and corporations have pledged their support of this endeavor. With the planetarium in full operation, exciting new programs can focus on educational activities for all ages, edutainment for community members, and training sessions for businesses and other non-profits. 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.