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West Valley College has received its largest ever gift, a $3.5 million donation from The Jean and E. Floyd Kvamme Foundation to transform the college’s aging planetarium into a state-of-the-art facility, complete with a new 10-meter dome, digital planetarium projector and theater seating. The new planetarium will be named the Jean and E. Floyd Kvamme Planetarium in recognition of the gift.

Not only will the gift renovate the planetarium, but it also will establish an endowment to develop ongoing programming and exhibits for the college at large and the local community.

“This historic gift further signifies the tremendous faith that our community has in the work of our outstanding faculty, staff and students and the contributions we make every day in support of public education,” said Bradley J. Davis, WVC interim president. “First with Measure C and Proposition 30 and now with a charitable contribution of this magnitude, West Valley College continues to build a learning environment commensurate with our world-class faculty. We will be forever grateful to the Kvammes for this gift and the strong message it sends about the critical role the college plays in educating and inspiring future generations. It is my hope that one day all our buildings will honor the people who have contributed to our college.”

As Saratoga residents for 40 years, the Kvammes had been looking to give back to the community and wanted whatever they supported to be of world-class quality, E. Floyd Kvamme said. When they heard about the planetarium project, the couple saw a natural fit with location and with interests – two of their sons had always been interested in optics and once built their own telescope, and their grandson has a keen interest in astronomy. The Kvammes were also impressed with plans for outreach to the community and to schools.

“We’re hoping the planetarium will interest a lot of kids,” Kvamme said. “We hope it can interest students in things scientific that they might not think they’d be interested in. We’re hoping it will open doors for them.”

Built more than 40 years ago, the WVC planetarium needs upgrades to keep up with technological and scientific advances in astronomy. Between the Kvammes’ gift and $1.5 million from Measure C, the planetarium will be completely overhauled and brought up to modern planetarium standards.

As an example of the impact the upgrades will have, Planetarium Director Benjamin Mendelsohn described the planetarium’s current star projector, which can show about 1,000 stars. The new digital projector will be able to show about 10,000 stars, reproducing the night sky with a much higher degree of accuracy, he said.

Additionally, he said, because everything will be computer-based, it will be much easier to jump ahead, or back, in time when looking at space. Since modern planetariums draw on decades of data gathered through space exploration, the renovated WVC planetarium will be able allow viewers to “voyage” off Earth and among the stars.

“We can literally take you from the present and moving out into space and back into time, we can go to those first few moments after the Big Bang and take you to the edge of the observable universe,” Mendelsohn said. “It’s really going to do some marvelous things for teaching astronomy.”

The renovated planetarium also will benefit WVC students in other fields. Mendelsohn envisions the planetarium as a multidisciplinary resource, offering opportunities to students in other science fields as well as the arts.

“We’re really planning to branch out quite a bit once the new facility is in place,” he said.

This will extend into the community at large, with the planetarium being a resource for K-12 students and teachers, in particular. Currently, the planetarium cannot offer community programming; part of the Kvammes’ gift establishes an endowment to ensure resources are available for such outreach. The new planetarium also will include a museum of science.

“The district’s strong track record of using taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively to serve student needs has laid a foundation of community trust that made a generous donation of this kind possible,” said West Valley-Mission Community College District Trustee Chad Wash. “I am delighted and honored that the district has earned the confidence of one of Silicon Valley’s greatest leaders and someone I personally hold in very high regard. I wish to express my most sincere thanks to Floyd, Jean and the entire Kvamme family for this generous gift.”

WVMCCD Chancellor Patrick Schmitt said: “This generous gift from the Kvammes gives West Valley a transformative teaching tool. It serves to remind us all of the tremendous power of private philanthropy in public higher education.”