BANGOR, Maine — The billions and billions of stars in the cosmos will be clearer and brighter in the new $5.2 million combined planetarium and observatory that the University of Maine System board of trustees approved Monday for the University of Maine campus.
The new structure will be built near Rangeley Road between the Hilltop parking lots and the Littlefield Garden. It is expected to be completed in about three years.
“I think it’s a great thing for UMaine students and the Greater Bangor community,” Jeffrey Hecker, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said after the trustees endorsed the project.
The observatory, with a telescope dating back to 1901, and the Jordan Planetarium, located in Wingate Hall, are obsolete, Hecker told board members Monday. The telescope’s age does not allow for collaboration with institutions that have digital capacity.
“The new telescope will allow students taking online courses to access the telescope remotely, download digital images of stars and save them as part of homework assignments,” Hecker said. “It also would allow us to teach astronomy courses online.”
The Jordan Planetarium, with 35 seats, has nearly 5,000 visitors per year, approximately 66 percent of whom are schoolchildren, Hecker said. The proposed planetarium would seat 50 and the dome, which is now 20 feet across, would be 33 feet across and allow full digital projection.
“That would allow us to get new programs and enhance the experience of families and schoolchildren who are frequent visitors,” Hecker said.
Bus drop-offs at Wingate Hall are a safety concern on busy Munson Road and there is no visitor parking for families and small groups. The new location would allow a visitor parking section and safer bus drop-offs for schoolchildren.
Nearly $2.2 million has been raised through the University of Maine Foundation to pay for the proposed 5,312-square-foot building. The foundation has committed to raising an additional $1 million. Of the remaining funds, $1 million would come from UMaine and another million would need to be raised in a capital campaign over the next three to five years.
Construction of the new building, which would require no additional staff, would increase the university’s annual operating budget by about $180,000.
Once the new observatory-planetarium is completed, Wingate Hall will be renovated to create a “student one-stop center,” according to a summary of the project provided to board members.
The trustees also approved creation of the Dr. Waldo “Mac” Libbey ’44 Professorship in Electrical & Computer Engineering at UMaine. Libbey, who died on Jan. 10, 2009, at the age of 86, left $250,000 to the university to establish the professorship.
Libbey graduated from Bangor High School, held a baccalaureate degree in electrical engineering from UMaine and returned there in 1943 after completing his graduate work out of state, according to his obituary. He retired in June 1990.
During his tenure at UMaine, he was instrumental in starting a full graduate program in electrical engineering in the 1950s. Throughout his 47 years at the university, he was credited with initiating 14 new courses, graduate and undergraduate, in the curriculum.
Libbey’s avocation was music. He was a member of the Bangor Band, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and a founder of the Bangor Savoyards, which performed musicals.
In an unrelated financial matter, Rebecca Wyke, UMS vice chancellor for finance and administration, announced that preliminary figures show a projected surplus systemwide of between $21 million and $24 million at the end of fiscal year 2011, which ended on June 30. That is between 4 percent and 4.5 percent of the unrestricted operating budget, she said.