Saturday, June 28, 2008

Eden Prairie, Minnesota and their free telescope

Eden Prairie's telescope

Philanthropic endeavors can encounter issues. Who has ever heard of Eden Prairie, Minnesota...few I doubt. But Eden Prairie has become the recipient of a free 16-inch telescope thanks to the generosity of the Minnesota Astronomical Society. Now what does one do with the telescope...well, build a building to house the instrument. Not that easy. The telescope is valued at about a little over $10,000 and a facility to house the telescope would range from $110,000 to $130,000. This is a hard sell to the citizens of Eden Prairie...a small city in Minnesota whose average family income is about $38,000. A private donation of $75,000 has been promised as well as one for $10,000. That is still about $50,000 that the city has to raise. And that is only part of the problem. Where will they build the building that would be free from city lights and vandalism? Stay tuned.

"Needed in Eden Prairie: Astronomy buffs with cash"

Eden Prairie got a telescope as a gift and is now seeking donors to build an observatory for it.


Laurie Blake

Star Tribune

June 25th, 2008

An Edina couple, Doug and Carolyn Kohrs, have pledged $75,000 toward the cost of building a small observatory to house Eden Prairie's telescope for public viewing.

The donation gives the city more than half the money necessary to build a home for the telescope overlooking Staring Lake. The scope, donated to Eden Prairie by the Minnesota Astronomical Society, is a 16-inch Cassegrain that would put a broad, detailed view of the night sky within easy reach of west-suburban residents.

Cost of a home for the telescope -- one of the largest in the state at 9 feet tall and more than 1,000 pounds -- was estimated at $113,000 to $127,000 by a consultant.

That's more than 10 times the value of the telescope itself.

Not wanting to say no to the gift but cool to the cost of building an observatory, the City Council has asked Parks and Recreation Director Jay Lotthammer to try to fund it with donations. "The concern is we have a telescope worth about $10,000, so how much does accepting a gift end up costing us?" he said.

Another donor, whose name has not been released by the city, has pledged $10,000.

The Kohrs are both engineers, and both have an interest in science. "We wanted to do something to give back to our community,'' Carolyn Kohrs said.

Lotthammer continues to seek other donations. He plans to report back to the City Council in mid-July or early August. If the council thinks sufficient funds have been donated, the city will call for contractor bids to build the observatory, Lotthammer said.

The building the city envisions for the telescope would have a log-cabin look that would blend in with the lake shoreline, Lotthammer said. It would have a retractable roof with space for a horseshoe of benches around the telescope, where a group could gather to see the telescope's view on a wide-screen TV.

Lotthammer said the best place for the telescope is at the Nature Center on Staring Lake, where the city boat house now stands. That would position the telescope on the north side of the lake, away from the lights of both the city's Town Center area and the Nature Center's parking lot.

"At that point, you have a clear picture of a great deal of the southern sky," Lotthammer said. It's the location the Outdoor Center uses now for portable telescope demonstrations, he said.

The lake site would be an expensive site to build on because poor soils and proximity to the water would require deep anchoring with piles topped by poured concrete, according to Buetow and Associates Inc. of St. Paul, which estimated costs for the city. "The base that the telescope sits on must be stable since the structure will not be heated and will be susceptible to frost heave," the firm said.

The boat house on the site is old and dilapidated and should be torn down, even if the telescope doesn't go there, Lotthammer said. The telescope -- which has an estimated resale value of $5,000 to $10,000 -- is now in pieces in storage.

The astronomical society, a club of about 400 amateur astronomers, acquired the scope from the University of Minnesota Duluth about 30 years ago. Bill Kocken, secretary of the association, has described it as a professional-level scope that is sturdy but not computerized, as modern scopes are.

Until December 2006, the society used the telescope at the Onan Observatory in Baylor Regional Park in Norwood Young America, where it holds regular star-gazing sessions.

When the group got a new computerized telescope, it donated the old one to Eden Prairie because the city's nature program already includes a once-a-month astronomy program led by one of the society's members, Jon Hickman, who uses his own portable telescope.

Philanthropy and science

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