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Planetarium gets gift and a new name

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A $1 million gift from the Clark Foundation will usher in a new era for Hansen Planetarium.

The contribution means the Hansen Planetarium will shed its current name and will be known as The Sheila M. Clark Planetarium. Inside, the planetarium will house the state-of-the-art George T. Hansen star theater.

At a press conference Wednesday adjacent to the construction site of the new planetarium at The Gateway, Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman announced the foundation's gift. The donation comes as the Hansen Planetarium, at 15 S. State, gears down for its closure and move to Gateway.

At its present location for 37 years, the planetarium has recently struggled in part due to cramped parking and inadequate space.

Last year, the Salt Lake County Council agreed to bond for $17.9 million to fund the construction of a new planetarium. The county will pay back the bond with the $1.6 million previously dedicated to the planetarium's operating expenses.

In an emotional moment in front of cameras and county officials, Mark Hansen said the family was saddened by the demise of the Hansen Planetarium but at the same time excited to continue to be a part of its future.

Decades ago, Beatrice M. Hansen established the planetarium in memory of her husband, George.

"My emotions and those of the rest of my family are mixed today," Mark Hansen said. "The Hansen Planetarium has had a unique and wonderful place in our hearts and in the hearts of all those who have visited our planetarium in the past 37 years."

The Clark Foundation's gift merges the effort of two families dedicated to public science education.

The contribution will be used specifically to pay for exhibits that include a giant model of the solar system — the rings of Saturn are 13 feet wide. In addition, visitors next fall will be able to operate robotic telescopes, gaze at alien vistas and view stars in remote locations throughout the world.

Michael Clark said the foundation's first donation after forming in 1996 was to the Hansen Planetarium.

Workman said the planetarium's construction is ahead of schedule and on budget with a planned opening in November.

The Hansen Planetarium opened on State Street with its now-signature production called "The Star of Bethlehem." A digital version of that same show will debut at the new planetarium's opening in honor of that tradition.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com