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34 workers get layoff notices as NH planetarium reorganizes

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 13. 2012 11:47PM
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen addresses the crowd during the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center Opening Celebration in Concord in March 2009. (JAMES COOK/UNION LEADER FILE)

BOB LaPREE/UNION LEADER NEW EXHIBIT - The Christa McAuliffe Plentarium in Concord recieved a new exhibit to display Monday (11/17/08) as a crane finishes placing a Redstone rocket with a replica of the Freedom 7 Mercury capsule that carried New Hampshire native Alan Shepard on America's first manned space flight in 1961. The rocket is at the entrance of the new McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center that is under construction and scheduled to open in early March, 2009.
CONCORD - Employees at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center re-interview for a dwindling number of jobs today, as the planetarium-based science center makes some of its final moves before converting from state control to a privately operated nonprofit organization on Jan. 1.

Jeanne Gerulskis, executive director of the Discovery Center, said by next week she should have a pretty good idea of who will be offered positions at the center. But she said whoever lands a job will have a less generous benefit package, and salaries will be adjusted to be in line with the nonprofit and museum sectors.

In June, Gov. John Lynch signed legislation that transfers the center to a private nonprofit.

All 34 full and part-time employees received layoff notices the Monday after Thanksgiving.

"We wish it didn't have to be this way, but if we bring all 34 over without funding in place, we'd be closed in a month," Gerulskis said.

When the McAuliffe-Shep-ard Discovery Center Corporation takes over on Jan. 1, its biggest challenge will be fundraising. Leaders have yet to receive their 501(c)3 status from the Internal Revenue Service, which would allow contributors to make tax-exempt donations. Gerulskis said Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte are trying to expedite the process, but the request remains with the IRS.

So when the center opens in January, it plans to run on an $850,000 budget, which represents expected revenues from admissions and memberships.

Ticket prices will increase $1, to $7 for children and $10 for adults.

Gerulskis said the the Discovery Center will be governed by a 13-member board. Its private fundraising wing, Touch the Future, has been disbanded and rolled into the board. The board chairman is Dr. James MacKay, a psychologist.

"We're excited about it, but it's also scary," she said about the transition. "Like any advance, it's a big leap, a leap of faith."

She said two changes are expected. In the past, the Discovery Center shied away from delving into the life of its namesake, Christa McAuliffe, the Concord schoolteacher who died when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. But the center is planning a room off the main gallery to highlight the lives of McAuliffe and Alan Shepard, the Derry native who was the first American in space.

The center also plans to build a space-themed playground this summmer. The playground was designed with input from the 23 members of Cub Scout Pack 88 from Concord, Gerulskis said.

"That was the most fun group of consultants I've ever dealt with," she said.

The deal is expected to save the state $10 million over 20 years. But although the Discovery Center will no longer get a check from the state, it will continue to remain in a state-owned, state-maintained building, paying $1 a year to lease.

Gerulskis said all 34 workers will be interviewed for whatever job they are interested in. She said, however, that the Discovery Center will likely go outside for two new positions - development director and chief financial officer. That means that only five full-time slots are available for the eight full-time employees, not including Gerulskis.

She said it was not possible to say how much each salary will be changed because duties are changing; some people could end up being paid more. But overall, the Discovery Center plans to spend $552,600 on salaries next year, compared to $671,400 this year.

She said some part-time workers will be offered full-time opportunities when finances improve.

Those laid off will be put on the state recall list.

Meanwhile, the Discovery Center plans to engage a focus group to help determine how it can meet community needs.

"A lot of the community is not aware of this transition," she said. "We're going to try to make it seamless and then better than it's been before."

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Mark Hayward may be reached at

The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center grew out of the original Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord.The expanded 45,000-square-foot air and space center opened in 2009. UNION LEADER FILE

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