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Did your public high school have a planetarium? Yeah, mine didn't either. But Southwest High School has a fully operational Spitz 512 Planetarium projector capable of displaying the positions in the sky of all the visible planets, the sun and the moon.
Or it did have that, anyway.
Bob Riddle, the former director of
Southwest's planetarium, remembers when KCMSD Superintendent John Covington blew a bunch of smoke
about upgrading the equipment last spring when he toured the planetarium with some other administrators. Covington explained to Riddle that he wanted to upgrade Southwest's to a digital system, which was what a planetarium at his previous post in the Pueblo, Colorado, school district had been equipped with.
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"I met with the superintendent on a Thursday," Riddle says. "In Pueblo, they had pretty much top-of-the-line, phenomenal stuff -- real-time graphics, 3-D, a super powerful computer. I left the meeting with the go-ahead to start dismantling the planetarium. They were going to get right on it."
So Riddle took apart the reclining seats in the viewing area and began removing shelving and the things from the walls. "That Monday or Tuesday after the meeting, my impression was, somebody's going to come in pretty soon, and they're going to start painting. I just thought it was going to be bang-bang-bang."
But the only thing that went "bang" was Riddle's employment. Five days after getting the go-ahead from Covington to get ready for upgrades at the planetarium, Riddle received an e-mail from the district's human resources department, asking him to come to district headquarters.
"That's when I got dumped," Riddle says. "I can handle budget cuts and that kind of thing, but that, to me, was about as unprofessional [as it gets], considering the meeting I'd just had with the superintendent. Either he knew, and he was just sort of playing me along, or he didn't know. And I can't imagine that he wouldn't know something like a district facility about to be closed."
Riddle was one of about 200 district employees who was laid-off
that day, he says.
Even though KCMSD documentation shows the intent to put $250,000 worth of upgrades into Southwest's planetarium, sources at the school tell The Pitch
that the doors are locked.Josh Lockhart
, who spoke with The Pitch
for this week's feature
, is a sophomore at Southwest who remembers visiting the planetarium on middle school field trips. He signed up for astronomy class, thinking it would be in use.
"I always loved to see that," Lockhart says. "You could actually see the different constellations. You had these seats that laid back. Now it's all full with boxes. If we would have had that, my astronomy class would have been a lot easier, but we work out of the book. It sucks."
Riddle thinks the shuttered planetarium is symbolic of what happened to Southwest this year. "It's a shame," he says. "The school's got phenomenal lab facilities and really great teachers
. Everyone had sort of bought into that program, and it's almost like the district said, 'This is working. Let's screw it up.'"
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