THE BUILDING

The observatory building is four stories tall and features a classroom, a library, a workshop, an office and, of course, the dome housing the telescope.

The Museum maintains the building and uses it for some daytime classes and meetings, and there are other groups that meet there as well. Museum use of the building for evening observing visits by school or other groups happens perhaps twice a month. Every clear Friday evening from 8-10PM (8:30 - 10:30 during Daylight Saving time) the Museum holds public open house. The rest of the time the telescope is available for enjoyment or research by FCAS members.

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HISTORY

In 1955, the FCAS requested that the Museum allow a small piece of its property to be used to build an observatory. The request was granted by the Museum and planning started. At first, a simple shed to house the Museum's 10-inch telescope was envisioned, but the Museum requested that the observatory be opened to the public on a regular basis. That meant that there must be restrooms, and the fact that plumbing would be available meant that a darkroom could be added for developing the inevitable astrophotos. These additions more than doubled the size of the expected building, so the design was further expanded to include a small classroom. It was realized that elevating the telescope would mean better seeing, so a second floor was added. At this stage of the planning Frank and Helen Altschul found out about the proposed observatory, since their grandson was in the astronomy program at the Museum. They donated $50,000 to build a proper observatory, and architect Gordon Johnson was hired to design it.

The observatory building was constructed during the years 1959 and 1960 by local contractor Frank Mercede & Son. Whenever possible, surplus materials from other building jobs were used, and FCAS members did as much of the construction as possible. This was particularly helpful in finishing details of the structure, and in interior painting. In spite of these economies costs exceeded the donation by the Altschuls and the Museum had to make a Public Subscription, raising about $17,000 more. It was promised at that time that the observatory would always be available to the community.

At the dedication of the telescope Mr. Perkin had another concern. He asked us "When are you going to paint the building white?" - to cut down on absorption of the Sun's heat by the brown brick. FCAS members banded together and in 1970 painted the building with the whitest paint available - high titanium content. Scaffolding was rented and the Museum bought a paint sprayer-compressor. This paint job did indeed cut down a great deal on the heat, but later a problem developed. We would find pieces of brick had spalled off the building. Approximately 3/8 inch of the brick's face would break loose. "Experts" thought that we had sealed the moisture in the brick and it was causing the spalling. If such a brick split happened while someone was entering the building there could be an injury. All our hard careful work was turned to dust when the Museum had the building sandblasted to remove the paint. A coat of stucco-like cement material was applied. It was not as white as the paint, but was supposed to let the brick "breathe". The spalling continues to this day. The so-called experts were wrong.

Further concerns about the building arose when it was noticed that severe cracks were developing in the wall, particularly in the machine-shop area. Once again experts were called in, and this time they seemed to make more sense. The original building plans had called for a three-tier metal railing around the observing roof-deck. It had been felt that this would pose a hazard in the possibility of children climbing it and falling over. Instead the contractor simply carried the brick wall up about 30 inches and a single rail topped the addition. This, however, added about 200 pounds per foot to the load on the walls and eventually the strain showed up as cracks. The solution was a major renovation paid for by the City. Starting at the edge of the tower all of the brick was removed from the west and north sides of the building. As the brick was being removed it was found that the building had not been properly constructed in the first place. The outer brick wall was not properly fastened to the inner block wall, and was essentially standing all by itself, with about an inch gap between the two, and no insulation or vapor barrier. The brick was tested and found to have been improperly fired which was the cause of the spalling. To remedy the situation a new exterior wall was built using modern construction methods. A steel shell was built and then covered by insulation and a layer of weatherproof sheetrock. This was then covered with the cement finishing layer.


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In 1995, the FCAS painted all of the public areas of the observatory's interior using lighter shades of the old colors. The painting of the ceiling of the auditorium white required three coats to cover the original dark green. The dark green had made the place look like a cave, and absorbed much of the light. Once the walls were painted, we put in the mural of the Solar System comparing the sizes of the planets to a nine-inch globe of the Earth. This has been an extremely popular exhibit.