Reaching for the stars: Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens redevelopment project to bring borough its first planetarium

The new Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens in Astoria will be home to the borough’s first-ever planetarium. (Photos courtesy of Gianaris’ office)

The borough’s first-ever planetarium is coming to Astoria as part of the Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens’ redevelopment project.

State Senator Michael Gianaris on Sept. 21 announced that he secured a $1 million grant in the state budget to build the new 70-seat planetarium that will serve and inspire between 8,000 and 10,000 young people every year.

Variety Boys & Girls Club of Queens (VBGCQ) sits between the underserved communities of Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Astoria Houses, as well as the new developments going up across western Queens, where stargazing is nearly impossible because of the bright lights of the Manhattan skyline across the East River.

“If we want our kids to reach for the stars, they must see them first,” Gianaris said. “This project will make science more accessible to the children of our neighborhoods and open their minds to exciting new possibilities for their futures. With this first-of-its-kind planetarium, Queens will not only be the ‘World’s Borough’ but the universe’s.”

Given the quality of the VBGCQ’s programs, most of which are offered for free or at a low cost, there is great demand from local families, Gianaris explained. In 2019, more than 200 children were on the waitlist due to limited new space at the clubhouse, which is nearly 70 years old.

Since 2015, the club has spent over $300,000 in repairs. The antiquated boiler requires constant repairs, while the water and sewage pipes, built into concrete floors, have collapsed and are prone to flooding. Electrical lines can’t handle modern appliances and the building’s design has created challenges keeping up with the building, fire and accessibility regulations. The redevelopment project at 21-20 30th Rd. will include a five-story clubhouse and 14-story residential apartment building containing 229 affordable units, which is still in the design phase. The new planetarium will be housed inside the new clubhouse.

NASA executive Dr. Amy Kaminski said the new planetarium might inspire future scientists, engineers and space explorers in Astoria.

“This space will allow our children to explore the galaxy right here in Queens, further training the scientists of the 21st century for the challenges of the 21st century,” VBGCQ CEO Costa Constantinides said. “When opened in 2026, we expect the planetarium to serve over 10,000 young people every year, giving them the platform to reach for the stars. Thank you to Senator Gianaris for investing in our children and providing the funding to make this plan to shoot for the moon bringing a planetarium to Queens a reality.”

NASA executive Dr. Amy Kaminski spoke to the crowd gathered inside the club’s gymnasium about the future of the nation’s space program.

“Right now, NASA is working to send humans to the moon and ultimately to Mars. In order for us to keep up this work in the decades to come, we will need a new generation of scientists, engineers and space explorers,” Kaminski said. “A planetarium is a ticket to building curiosity and knowledge, and these are the real keys to success in STEM fields. It is so exciting to hear about the next generation of scientists, engineers and space explorers it may help to cultivate.”

See video of the announcement below.