The Henry W. Ray Special Experience Room – Winter 2006

The H.W.Ray Special Experience Room

Don Knapp, Director of Multimedia Experiences
McDonald Elementary School
666 Reeves Lane
Warminster, PA 18974

Year planetarium opened:

Opened to Public 1969

Tell us about your planetarium:

The Henry W. Ray Special Experience Room , located in the Everett A. McDonald Elementary School, opened in 1969 as a combination multimedia theater/planetarium. To accommodate this multiple purpose, the planetarium star projector, usually mounted permanently in the center of the planetarium, was constructed on a elevator so that the Spitz STP star projector could be lowered completely out of the theater when not in use. In its stowed position, the star projector is completely hidden by two trap doors which are flush to the floor when closed. It is believed that this was the first school planetarium in the world to utilize an elevator in this manner. Unlike most planetarium theaters, the Special Experience Room was built with no permanent seating arrangement. Chairs were arranged in a variety of formations, depending upon the type of presentation being given. For most lessons, ordinary class room chairs were arranged on three levels of risers which faced one half of the theater. In this configuration, approximately 45 students could be accommodated for a typical planetarium lesson.

During the summer of 2006, several improvements were made to the theater. A digital imaging system, capable of projecting full-dome video on to the theater’s 12.2-meter dome, was added to the theater in August. The new SciDome projector can be used in place of our aging optical star projector, or as a supplement to it. In order to provide the best possible viewing experience, fifty permanent theater-type seats were also installed. The front third of the theater, however, remains open so that the flexibility of the SER can be maintained. In addition, a computer-controlled LED lighting system was installed to allow more precise control over the lighting conditions used in the theater.

A large assortment of multimedia equipment is available to enhance the lessons presented, including two 6-projector slide matrices, a DVD player, two laser disc players, two videotape players, two large-image video projectors, and a multi-channel digital sound system.

The Special Experience Room offers over forty different curriculum- based lessons to the 6,300 students in the Centennial School District. Since each elementary grade level has multiple visits, this translates into over 13,500 student contacts per year. Many of these lessons are totally unrelated to astronomy, yet utilize the unique teaching environment of the SER.At least twelve public presentations are also given each school year. In addition, the SER is available for rental by community groups throughout the year.

What type of equipment do you have?

Spitz Space Transit Planetarium (1969)
Spitz SciDome HB Digital Fulldome Projector (2007)
40 ft. extended dome
East Coast Control System/Spitz ATM-4 Automation
50 Uni-directional Seats