The Adler Planetarium laid off 15 full-time employees Wednesday, about 8 percent of its workforce, citing "an effort to optimize our staffing and business model," Adler President Michelle Larson said in a statement.

The layoffs were "painful" and came from throughout the institution, said Marc Lapides, vice president of business and market development. The job cuts included at least two astronomers as well as two full-time public relations staffers, he said.

The Adler also eliminated about 8 percent of its staff in 2013. The current total employment, after Wednesday's layoffs, is about 195 positions, Lapides said.

Revenues and attendance have been strong at the space museum, Lapides said, but the Adler came out of the recent recession with pension liabilities and significant construction debt. In the decade prior to 2013, its total operating deficit was $16.6 million, and the planetarium recorded surpluses only three times, audited financial statements show.

Asked if debt service played a role in the layoffs, Lapides said, "I won't deny it."

He elaborated on the reasons. "We're trying to make it so that our annual revenues match our expenses," he said. "For at least the last few years, we were using money either from our endowment or a fundraising campaign to sustain us. Michelle is committed to making sure that our expenses and revenues are paid with recurring money, not taking money from our investment fund or in a large campaign."

"Any staff reduction is difficult," Larson also said in her statement, "but this was an effort to optimize our staffing and business model to best serve the Chicagoland community and our visitors, and ensure a great museum experience for years to come. Notwithstanding this staffing reduction, the Adler is seeing success in a number of areas and we will continue to invest in strategic programs and positions that enable us to meet the needs of our visitors."


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