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City Neighborhoods
Planetarium artifacts draw City Council's gaze

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

By Timothy McNulty, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Doing a surprise about-face, City Council delayed voting yesterday on the proposed lease of the old Buhl Planetarium to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum to allow council members to visit the site and inspect its city-owned artifacts.

In other matters, council approved a bill placing speed monitoring devices at city intersections, as well as a measure designed to force police officers to testify at Citizen Police Review Board hearings, though the city solicitor has said the legislation will be toothless.

A measure was introduced to pay $100,000 for a new traffic light at Steuben Street and Lorenz Avenue in the West End, near where a girl was struck by a school van in February. It is scheduled for debate today.

Council unanimously approved the Buhl lease in a preliminary vote last week, to make way for a proposed $18.5 million museum expansion into the vacant North Side planetarium. The city owns the planetarium and wanted to lease it to the museum for $1 annually for nearly 30 years.

But council wavered yesterday after the continued criticism of planetarium preservationists, who said the museum should keep the building's Zeiss star projector and Siderostat telescope, saying they are historic and unique artifacts.

Museum officials have said keeping the equipment would derail the expansion project, and that it should be transferred instead to the Carnegie Science Center.

Council agreed 7-1 to hold the lease, with Jim Motznik voting no and Bob O'Connor absent.

Council members will be given tours of the building today and tomorrow, accompanied by museum officials and preservationists.

The museum plans to start the expansion project in June.

More debate on the project is scheduled for today.

A resolution by Sala Udin attempts to compel police officers to testify at review board hearings -- which they currently refuse to do -- while preventing that testimony from being used against them in criminal proceedings. Council approved it 6-3 with Motznik, O'Connor and Gene Ricciardi voting no.

Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow has said only Mayor Tom Murphy can compel city officers to testify at the hearings on police behavior. The review board sued the city in Common Pleas Court in November to force the city to compel the testimony.

Morrow has said council's resolution would be "symbolic" at best and the issue would be decided in court.

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