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December 10, 2011

Edinboro University ready to see more stars

EDINBORO — Billy and Bobby Moats liked their first planetarium show so much they came back for the very next one — and this time, the boys from Cambridge Springs brought their LEGO-built Mars Rover models along for the ride.

It seems kids aren’t the only ones who’ve been excited to get their heads back up into the stars at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania’s Cooper Hall Planetarium.

“Every time you have a show, we’re coming. I wouldn’t miss it,” one man told David Hurd as he and few other adults hurried into the planetarium to catch a seat for a recent night’s show.

Directly above the door, there’s still a familiar-to-many sign: “Planetarium In Use,” signifying that inside, what’s outside in the night sky is shining bright. There’s a lot of things that are different about EUP’s sciences center these days, but “that’s one of the artifacts I made sure they saved,” Hurd said with a smile just before he got started on the evening’s astronomical excursion.

The planetarium events presented by Hurd at EUP are back after a roughly three-year absence, during which time the university worked to complete a $29 million expansion and renovation project at Cooper Hall.

It’s “exciting to be open again,” said EUP geosciences professor Hurd, the planetarium’s longtime director and host to an array of free public events. As always, “our whole goal is to excite the general public about the night sky,” he said, to foster wonder and a hunger for learning more.

Cooper Hall’s original 90,000 square feet of space was renovated during the project, and the facility — EUP’s main sciences building for more than four decades — was also expanded by approximately 30,000 square feet. According to university officials, the renovation, expansion and an array of technological upgrades have transformed it into one of the region’s most state-of-the-art academic science facilities.

“We really needed new labs and new facilities to showcase our sciences,” said Hurd. Those programs are “world-class,” he added. “We have graduates coming out of our (sciences) departments and doing great things,” and bringing the facilities up-to-speed with faculty and student needs and expectations “is a natural step in attracting the best.”

Cooper Hall was originally built between 1964 and 1965 at a cost of $692,000, according to the university. Named to honor Joseph A. Cooper — the Northwestern State Normal School at Edinboro’s third principal, who served for 29 years between 1863 and 1892 — the building’s last interior renovation was completed more than 20 years ago, officials have said.

Along with the planetarium, Cooper Hall also houses departmental offices for various science faculty, lecture halls, classrooms and instructional laboratories as well as an observatory and a new greenhouse that officials have said will contribute to a “living-learning” environment designed to facilitate and promote teaching and research opportunities related to environmental sustainability. The project also included the implementation of a geothermal heating and cooling system.

Pittsburgh-based Astorino Architects, designers of major facilities like the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, the Cabaret at Theater Square and PNC Park, worked as the project’s designers, according to the university.

Officials said the Cooper Hall renovation and expansion is one part of an ongoing, $200 million campuswide effort to improve facilities for academics, sports, recreation and student housing.

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