THE initial reaction of ratepayers to a proposal to spend their money on a planetarium could be hostile but a modest amount could turn out to be a very good investment.
The group behind the plan to build the impressively named Southern Skies Earth and Space Centre has been working towards this goal for several years and has demonstrated a genuine commitment in the face of several setbacks.
The two questions for councillors to consider on behalf of ratepayers are why underwrite a planetarium and by how much?
Answering the first question is fairly straight forward. Orange has precious few stand-alone tourist attractions, particularly for families, and few things excite kids like space.
The Dish at Parkes and the Siding Spring Observatory near Coonabarabran are two examples of astronomical facilities which are drawcards for their areas.
The planetarium proposed for a site near the Orange Botanic Gardens has been designed with education and tourism in mind. Such a facility would be a great educational tool not just for Orange schools but for visiting students and families, bound perhaps for Dubbo’s famous zoo.
There is no reason a planetarium could not be more popular than Bathurst’s Somerville fossil collection, and provide one more reason for family and school groups to factor a stop in Orange into a tour of central western NSW.
The question of how much the city should commit to a planetarium is more difficult to answer. To date, a gift of land for the site and $10,000 for a feasibility study has been the extent of council support. A further cash injection would have to be conditional on the planetarium group securing the lion’s share from state or federal grants.
A substantial contribution from Macquarie Street or Canberra would reassure ratepayers that the city was backing a sound proposal with the potential to make a significant contribution to both the economy and the education experience of their children.