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Board of Trustees approves plan to renovate the observatory and add an adjacent classroom building

February 23, 2024

Alex Spear
SHOOTING FOR THE STARS: The current observatory stands in the corner of Pickard Field after it was moved there last summer. Renovations include the addition of new telescopes and a classroom. The project is expected to be completed by January 2025.

On February 9, the Board of Trustees approved plans to renovate and add telescopes and a classroom to the College’s observatory, which was moved to the corner of Pickard Field last summer.

According to Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Matt Orlando, the College plans to start construction this May and complete it by January 2025. The total budget for the project is $2,765,000, according to the plan overview provided by Orlando. Construction costs comprise $1,708,000 of that total. The project is fully funded by an anonymous donor, who has given an additional $300,000 for an endowed operations and maintenance fund.

The classroom will be placed in a 1,500-square-foot building next to the observatory. The building will be ADA-accessible and students will be able to enter the space with their OneCards. Orlando also detailed what the design of the building includes.

“The design of the classroom building fits in seamlessly with the new Pickard Field press boxes and dugouts and will feature board and batten siding, brick skirting and a flat roof,” Orlando wrote in an email to the Orient.

Courtesy of the Treasurer's Office
AN OUT OF THIS WORLD RENOVATION: A rendering of the observatory renovations outlines where each of the new additions will go. The project features a 1,500-square-foot classroom building and an outdoor concrete telescope pad.

The College also plans to construct an outdoor concrete pier between the classroom building and the observatory, where students can observe the sky with smaller telescopes. Assistant Professor of Physics Fe McBride explained the purpose of adding on this pier.

“You can imagine if you have a large class, like an intro to astronomy class with 50 people, even if you put everyone into groups, it would take a long time for everyone to observe,” McBride said. “So we will have a fleet of smaller telescopes that will allow larger numbers of people to observe at the same time.”

The smaller telescopes will be moved inside when they are not in use, along with a large telescope that will be permanently placed in the dome structure. At one point, however, the College was considering a way to keep the small telescopes permanently outside.

“We were hoping to leave the telescopes in place [outside] but not be exposed to the elements,” Orlando said. “But I think the physics department is fine with [a scenario in which] you bring them out, set them up, fix them to the footings and then when you’re done you bring them back inside and store them.”

The dome of the observatory has not been opened and rotated yet, so the College does not yet know whether the dome will require complete replacement or just renovation.

“The goal is to peel off the metal plates and check if the wood underneath is good. If it’s good, we hope to just replace it with new metal and seal it off properly and renovate the dome on the inside and get all of the mechanics working,” McBride said. “But it might require a new dome. We hope to preserve the old dome because some of the newer domes are just plain white, which would clash with the building’s aesthetics.”


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