2014-08-08 / Front Page

New Planetarium, Observatory, and 4D Theater to open August 16

Windows to New Worlds Overview
Contributed by South Carolina State Museum

Project Scope and Uniqueness

The expanded and renovated South Carolina State Museum will be the first of its kind in the United States to have under one roof an on-site and online observatory and classroom, 55- foot digital planetarium dome and theater, 4D multisensory theater, plus an outdoor telescope viewing terrace and distance learning education capabilities.

The State Museum is adding value and content to what is already considered one of the greatest museums in the Southeast. The State Museum remains committed to it mission to engage, educate and inspire the lives of the people of South Carolina state and now, travelers from beyond our borders.

The Bob Ariail telescope collection is the best collection of historic American refracting telescopes in the world.

The telescope collection, combined with the observatory and planetarium, puts the State Museum in a league with other major astronomy/informal science education centers. How the State Museum compares:

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Washington, DC) – National Air and Space Museum’s observatory is used in the daytime only. No night programs!

Adler Planetarium (Chicago, IL) – Much of Adler Planetarium’s astronomy history collection is not on public display.

Royal Observatory, Greenwich (London, UK) – Royal Observatory Greenwich has public programs with their telescope a few days a month during the winter ONLY.

Griffith Observatory (Los Angeles, CA)

The State Museum is one of the few examples – and potentially the largest example – of an astronomy/STEM education facility connected to an interdisciplinary museum.

The State Museum will be the first organization in the nation to allow students and teachers to remotely control a digitized vintage telescope for distance education purposes. Economic Impact

Windows to New Worlds will have a significant economic impact on the City of Columbia and the State of South Carolina. From generating additional tax revenue for both the City of Columbia and Richland County to increased spending in local business such as hotels, restaurants, gas stations, etc., the project will create a boom in the economy of the midlands. Operational Impact of Project

Due to increased attendance and new entertainment and educational opportunities, the typical operations of the museum will change. Including but not limited to: General attendance will increase

Extended hours and opening for special hours for programming (special events designed to attract new and different demographics. (i.e. – adult laser planetarium shows, events in the observatory and terrace, children’s nighttime events, increased rental usage, etc.)

Typical length of stay per guest will increase with the new project (length of stay in Columbia as well as on our campus) creating more need from the customer within the SCSM campus. (Access to bathrooms, food and beverage, lockers, baby changing stations, etc.) Expected Results

Estimated attendance growth year one is +75,000, stabilized attendance at 200,000

Earned income growth from $1.5 million to $3 million

Economic impact in state/city through additional jobs and increased spending

Increased Accommodation and Hospitality Tax Revenues as a result of increased outer market visitors

Visitors traveling from more than 50-miles are expected to contribute more than $19 million to the state’s economy with spending on hotels, food and beverage and other travel-related activities. Design and Construction Team

All firms associated with the expansion and renovation project are industry leaders. Architects

Clark-Patterson-Lee – Brian Plant, Don Lee

Award-winning architectural and engineering design firm in business over 40 years serving New York, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina

Past projects include: Mint Museum, Discovery Place Imax Theater Renovation and USA Baseball Clubhouse.

Watson-Tate-Savory – Tom Savory, John McLean An award-winning firm with offices in both Carolinas. Central to their design approach is a deep regard for the people who use their buildings and the contexts in which the buildings are placed. Past projects include: Midland’s Tech Harbison Theater Building, USC’S Tailgating Experience Farmer’s Market Conversion and USC’s Horizon Research Center Construction

Gilbane Construction – Dave Dewar, Will Ligon, Chris Brown

Based in Providence, Rhode Island, Gilbane is one of the largest privately held family-owned real estate development and construction firms in the industry. Family-owned and operated since 1873, Gilbane is a three-time member of the FORTUNE100 “Best Companies to Work For” list for 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Gilbane Southeast is managing the SCSM project - serving as the Southeastern Regional headquarters with a district office located in Columbia, SC. Gilbane has managed construction projects for many public, private, commercial and institutional clients stretching across the Southeast including: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, AT&T, SweetWater Brewing Company, Johnson & Johnson and Emory University Thematic Design

Jack Rouse Associates ( JRA) – Matthew Wheeler, Mike Myers

JRA is a group of writers, planners, designers, media producers and project managers based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Named by The Wall Street Journal as “one of the world’s more prominent design firms,” JRA has been structured to conceive, visualize and realize unique visitor experiences around the globe, including one-of-kind theme parks, attractions, museums and visitor centers. Planetarium

Evans & Sutherland – Evans & Sutherland is the world's first computer graphics company and has developed and advanced computer graphics technology for almost four decades. Focusing primarily on digital planetariums and digital cinemas worldwide, E&S is the world's leading provider of complete full dome digital theater systems and the world's leading producer and distributor of full dome shows, including giant screen films transfers in 2D and 3D. 4-D Theater

IWERKS – SimEx-Iwerks Entertainment specializes in designing, building and operating special F/X driven cinematic attractions that feature blockbuster content from the world’s major film studios. They build successful partnerships that provide 4-D Experience¬ģ films and services to more than 150 attractions in more than 30 countries. Their attractions generate revenue, drive attendance and provide family-friendly memorable experiences to more than 50 million guests each year. Funding Sources

Windows to New Worlds is a $23 million dollar expansion and renovation project that has been in the works for more than 17 years.

Corporate 8%
Private 14%
Local Gov 14%
State Gov 50%
Foundations 5%


The observatory houses a historic 1926 12-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope, which is used for both live viewing and digital imaging of amazing night-sky objects (planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies). A suite of special equipment will allow safe viewing of the Sun during the daytime. Museum guests are thus able to see firsthand dynamic details on our nearest star. The telescope is controlled by a computer system, enabling it to be pointed quickly at specific locations in the sky. Adjoining the observatory is a dedicated classroom space and outdoor terrace for portable telescopes. The observatory and classroom combined are 1,750 square feet with an additional 425 square feet for the outdoor terrace. Distance Learning

The observatory will play a central role in the museum’s new distance learning initiatives. Students and teachers can connect to the telescope via remote desktop software and control it in real time (under the supervision of an on-site telescope operator). Social media platforms such as Twitter and Google+ Hangouts will enable live interaction between classrooms and observatory education staff. The Museum’s distance learning infrastructure can also be used for non-observatory programs. Evening Public Programs

One night per week the museum’s hours will be extended, and the observatory will be open to the public in the evening. These evening public programs will provide guests opportunities to view nighttime celestial objects in the telescope. Evening public programs will be held regardless of the weather. On nights when weather conditions preclude telescope viewing, guests can tour the observatory and telescope gallery, watch a star show in the planetarium or enjoy a film in the 4D theatre. Antique Telescope Collection

Robert B. Ariail, a local amateur astronomer, donated a remarkable collection of telescopes, the oldest dating to 1730. This incredibly rare collection, praised by the Antique Telescope Society, features the largest collection of early American Telescopes anywhere. The collection features the oldest surviving American-made observatory instrument, which was delivered in 1849 to Erskine College in Due West, SC and will be part of a 6,000 ft exhibit of astronomical instruments. Planetarium

The planetarium is 145-seat theatre with a 55-foot dome screen and digital full dome projection system. The projection system recreates the night sky, showing stars, planets and other sky objects. It is capable of showing the night sky from any location on Earth and can also show films on both space and non-space topics in an immersive format encompassing the entire dome. The projection system’s on-board star databases allow audiences to “fly” through real-life models of the universe. The planetarium also includes laser projectors for laser light shows and a high-powered surround sound system. Interactive technology at each seat allows guests to engage actively with planetarium presentations. Educational Presentations

The planetarium will be used every day for educational presentations for the general public and school groups. These presentations include astronomy and space shows and K-12 standards-based programs for school groups. The planetarium will also be used for earth science, life science, natural history and cultural history shows. The museum’s new IT systems will allow images taken at the observatory telescope to be displayed in the planetarium. Creative and Arts-based Presentations

The planetarium’s programming extends beyond astronomy and space shows, making it different from many other planetarium facilities in the United States. The inspiring space of the planetarium, combined with its immersive projection and sound equipment, make it ideal for creative arts and music presentations. These presentations can be film-based, live or a combination of both. The planetarium is thus not only an educational space but also an interactive performance space. Laser Shows

The planetarium’s laser projection and surround-sound systems are used frequently for spectacular shows combining laser light and rock music by artists such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. Hours of Operation

The planetarium will be open throughout the museum’s normal operating hours and also for extended-hours public evenings incorporating the observatory and 4D theatre. 4D Theater

The 4D theater will couple high definition 3D digital projection films with physical features to provide a multi-sensory, interactive experience for guests. Physical features will include water sprayers, leg ticklers, air blasters, scents, snow/bubble/smoke effects, strobe lights and vibrating seats are synchronized to the images displayed on the film screen. SimEx-Iwerks 4D FX Theater is designing the 128-seat theater, which will occupy the former auditorium located on the second level of the museum. Films

A wide array of film titles are currently available and vary in length from 10-15 minutes each. Films will be selected based on relevance to current exhibitions and seasonal availability. For example, The Polar Express in 4D will be scheduled to coincide with the winter holidays (Nov. – Dec.) and films such as Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs to compliment the Dinosaur blockbuster exhibit.

Daily showings will be offered during museum operating hours. Shows will begin 30 minutes after opening and will run until closing. Two film titles are scheduled to be shown interchangeably each day and will be scheduled to begin on the hour and half-hour. Tickets may be purchased separately or in addition to museum general admission. Theater Operation

The 4D Theater Manager will be responsible for overall operation of the theater, including selection of films, general maintenance of effects (ex: filling bubble machines, sanitizing and stocking 3D eyeglasses and replacing bulbs) and the supervision of seasonal staff. Theater attendants will be hired in a part-time seasonal capacity. The duties included sales and validation of tickets at the theater entrance, sales of themed merchandise related to the current film titles. Food and beverages will not be sold at the theater. Additional responsibilities include briefing guests of theater safety and emergency procedures prior to each film.

The theater will be available as a venue for facility rentals. Evening rentals will be available on a limited basis when the theater is not in use for museum related programming.

Return to top