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Club encouraged by Sedgwick County response to Lake Afton Observatory plan

The Lake Afton Public Observatory is set to close after its final program on Aug. 22. (July 14, 2015)
The Lake Afton Public Observatory is set to close after its final program on Aug. 22. (July 14, 2015) File photo

Local astronomy enthusiasts trying to save the Lake Afton Public Observatory got a pledge of support Wednesday from Sedgwick County commissioners.

The fate of the observatory and its 16-inch reflective telescope now rests with Wichita State University.

The university’s Fairmount Center for Science and Mathematics Education partners with the county to operate the building and education programs. But WSU announced last month that it would close the 34-year-old observatory after it could no longer afford annual operational losses. It is scheduled to close later this month.

Since then, members of the Kansas Astronomical Observers – a club of astronomy and telescope enthusiasts – and other volunteers have created a new business plan, this time volunteer-based and geared toward more public support and donations.

“My personal feelings are that this is looking more encouraging with every passing day,” said Harold Henderson, a member of the Kansas Astronomical Observers who addressed commissioners on Wednesday.

Commissioners did not take any action on the presentation but pledged their support for the group’s efforts. The county’s stake in the observatory would not change, Henderson said, so it would still serve as the building’s landlord.

Henderson asked that commissioners contact WSU with “words of encouragement.”

“We’re all supportive of your endeavors,” commission Chairman Richard Ranzau said during the meeting. “We’re willing to work with you if you can get accomplished the agreement from Wichita State.”

University officials said Tuesday they were checking contracts to see whether they could leave the signature telescope and a few other items with the club. The last program with WSU as the observatory’s operator is set for Aug. 22.

Reach Shelby Reynolds at 316-268-6514 or sreynolds@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @_shelbyreynolds.

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