The Marie Drake Planetarium

Where the stars always shine in Juneau, AK

History of the Marie Drake Planetarium

1964

  • Bill Overstreet became the Juneau School District's Superintendent. He presented to the school board the idea of adding a planetarium to the plans for the new Marie Drake Junior High School.

1967

  • New Marie Drake Junior High School opened with a planetarium room sustaining a 30 foot dome with theater style concentric seating and a SPITZ star ball machine.The projector cost $36,000
  • The planetarium was the first in Alaska. It was built with the aid of a 50% federal matching grant under the terms of the National Defense Education Act. It is now the second largest planetarium in Alaska.
  • A full time teacher, Albert Shaw, was hired to teach school classes and give public presentations. His title was planetarium director. He went to two summer training in the lower 48. He developed a planetarium program for k-6th grades given in the planetarium. He also did programs for higher grade levels in their regular  classrooms. He also gave public presentations. The school district paid  his salary and the planetarium had budget for things such as instructional supplies.

1975

Last record of public show was in 1975. Around this time the use of the planetarium fell and soon died out. The room was converted into an additional classroom and storage room.

1984

$5,409 obtained for Marie Drake Junior High School through an education consolidation and improvement act chapter II block grant.  Title of project:  Planetarium Studies. The major expenditure was repair and maintenance of projector. Locking covers were also put on projector.

1982

$2,000 obtained for Marie Drake from ESEA Title IV-C Teacher Incentive Initiative Grant.
1,430 people were served, mostly elementary students.

1990

  • Room being used as a computer room. 
  • In November the school board visited the planetarium and later a group of volunteers made a presentation was to the school board to make more use of the planetarium. They hoped it could be converted back into a planetarium when new middle school opens. See Juneau Empire article.
  • A group of volunteers got planetarium going again and started giving programs for the public and school classes.
  • School district allowed use of room and paid for electricity and janitorial work. Occasionally, the school district paid for maintenance e.g. starball repair.
  • November 23rd - grand opening held with two shows. Attendance 55 people.

1991

  • November 13th -- a long Juneau Empire article published. "Stargazing, Juneau Style - Marie Drake's Planetarium Makes a Comeback" by Sherry Simpson.

1992

  • Planetarium still used full time as a computer lab.
  • School board asked by letter, "when the district considers how to use the Marie Drake building as the result of the new middle school, we recommend the planetarium again become a designated place for astronomy education as a part of the science curriculum. If other activities need to share that space, they should be compatible with the planetarium needs."

1993

  • 108 people signed a petition to the Juneau School District Board and Facilities Committee. "We, the undersigned Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium, recommend spending about $45,000 of the Marie Drake Building Remodeling bond funds to refurbish, restore, and equip the Marie Drake Planetarium to an extraordinary multi-purpose facility, upon completion of the new middle school. As indicated below, many of us have attended planetarium shows; we know first-hand the value of this facility and want these educational events to continue."
  • Two letters of support were obtained the principal of Marie Drake Middle School and the School of Education, Liberal Arts and Science at UAS,
  • Planetarium volunteers lead a coalition and  write to Facilities Committee recommending spending $43,500-53,500 from the Marie Drake Middle School Remodeling bond funds to "refurbish, restore and equip the Marie Drake Planetarium as an extraordinary multi-purpose facility, upon the completion of the new middle school."  
  • Despite community support and documentation of planetarium's achievements, I do not think any money was allocated by JSD.

1994

  • The Marie Drake Junior High School is replaced by a new middle school (DZ). The old school building is now called the Marie Drake Building. 

1996

  • Michael Orelove starts volunteering at the planetarium. He becomes unofficial unpaid "director" in 2001.

1997

  • Spitz maintenance person comes from Seattle in September.  Cost paid by Juneau School District. 
2001
Summer Solstice (June 20) - Dedication of downtown community sundial.

2002
Juneau Community Planet Walk created at Twin Lakes - Opening celebration September 1st.

2003
Tidal Gauge created at downtown dock.

2004
United States Map Created on downtown dock.

2006
  • The Planetarium sign and logo created by Jesse Peterson. It is above the entrance to the Marie Drake building.
  • Michael Orelove moves to Gresham, OR where he continues to be active in the community, including various astronomy related projects. The webmaster is grateful for him for donating written materials which were very useful in documenting planetarium's history and event and show statistics.


2011

In June, 2011 The Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium (FOMDP) was formed. The board had five members. its primary goal is to raise funds for a new digital projector to expand and improve our astronomy education programming.

2014

  • Friends of the Marie Drake Planetarium recieve IRS non profit status. 

2016

  • Planetarium has 360 people on email list
  • Facebook Page created. Marie Drake Planetarium. It has 70 likes by end of 2016

2017

Spitz Projector turned 50. 

2019

  • Awarded $25,000 Rasmuson tier 1 grant.
  • Awarded $10,00 matching grant from the Juneau Community Foundation's Blackwell Fund These funds were matched in a month.
  • Held successful Digital Planetarium Week. Click here for details. Three educators from Museum of Flight came to Juneau. 
  • Awarded $25,000 grant from Coeur Alaska - Kensington Mine.
  • Three large grants and other smaller contributions complete phase 3 or our 3 part fundraising plan. This enables us to buy a new planetarium system with the features and upgrades we wanted.
  • Board purchases a new Digitarium custom Lambda Projection System from Digitalis in Bremerton, WA
  • 440 Facebook likes and 800 people on our email list.
  • Board member attends 3 day Digitalis training.

2020