Stars align for restoration of 'mysterious, mystical' planetarium

After years sitting vacant and neglected in Coronation Park, the stars have finally aligned for the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium.

'I remember the magic of the place'

With its domed roof and glass walls, the Edmonton Planetarium was originally designed to look like a flying saucer. (City of Edmonton Archives )

After sitting for years vacant and neglected in Coronation Park, the stars have finally aligned for the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium.

The city and Telus World of Science have reached an agreement to restore the iconic building.

The property, which has been granted historic designation, will be renovated as an educational, reception and production space for the science centre, and will be also be rented out for small public events.

The city has commissioned Architecture Tkalcic Bengert to come up with designs to restore the domed structure to its former glory.

"The building itself is exquisite," said Alan Nursall, president and CEO of Telus World of Science. "It's this wonderful little bit of modernist architecture. I mean, you look at the site and you know, that was built in 1960.

"It has its own, very distinct character both inside and outside. And that's part of its charm."

The round, glass-and-gold building was designed by city architects to look like a flying saucer.

The interior was equally futuristic, with terrazzo floors, red marble walls and multi-coloured hardwood.

At the time of its grand opening, it was the first municipal planetarium in Canada. At its peak of popularity in 1967, the planetarium welcomed 33,500 visitors a year.

"It was cutting edge, and the folks in Edmonton that made it happen were really ahead of their time," said Nursall. "A lot of planetariums around the world can trace their expertise and inspiration back to that little building  in Coronation Park."

The building was shuttered in 1983 after the opening of the nearby Edmonton Space and Science Centre. The planetarium has been vacant and unused since then. 

'It's going to be awesome'

Nursall said he went there often as a boy, and the space helped fuel his growing fascination for science.

"I remember the magic of the place," Nursall said. "You would go in there and there was that mysterious, mystical star ball in the middle of the roof that could bring the night sky up on the roof and take you places."

Construction is scheduled to start in 2017, and the plan is to have the building reopen in 2018. The project will have a budget of $6.6 million.

Nursall can't wait to be back inside the observatory room.

"It's going to be awesome."