Observatory back in town hands

A vote over pro­gram­ming leaves some vol­un­teers out in the cold

Thornhill Post - - News - — Jes­sica Wei

Fol­low­ing the trans­fer of the David Dun­lap Observatory (DDO) lands into pub­lic hands, a Rich­mond Hill Town Coun­cil vote over con­trol of pro­gram­ming at the cher­ished her­itage build­ing has cre­ated a rift in the York Re­gion as­tro­nom­i­cal com­mu­nity.

On Oct. 23, a vote at the Com­mit­tee of the Whole hear­ing re­sulted in pro­gram­ming and man­age­ment con­trol of the observatory be­ing di­vided be­tween the Royal As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety of Canada Toronto Cen­tre (RASC-TC), the David Dun­lap Observatory De­fend­ers (DDOD) and the Town of Rich­mond Hill.

How­ever, the newly formed York Re­gion Astron­omy As­so­ci­a­tion ( YRAA), which com­prises 123 vol­un­teers, felt dis­ap­pointed af­ter be­ing ex­cluded from the fu­ture of the observatory af­ter hav­ing con­trib­uted, in their minds, so many hours to its past as vol­un­teers.

RASC-TC had been the stew­ard of the observatory since 2009, af­ter the lands were sold by the Univer­sity of Toronto to Cor­sica De­vel­op­ments. Once it was an­nounced that the observatory would be trans­ferred to the Town of Rich­mond Hill, town staff ap­proached the group to en­ter into lease ne­go­ti­a­tions and as­sess their in­ter­est in ex­clu­sively man­ag­ing the observatory through the town, an of­fer that RASC-TC turned down cit­ing fi­nan­cial rea­sons.

“While we fully re­spect the hard work the small num­ber of peo­ple did to­ward the DDO, we could not ex­pose the 850 mem­bers of our so­ci­ety to that risk,” said Ian Wheel­band, RASC-TC’s pub­lic out­reach co-or­di­na­tor. “It would have — even the re­pairs we see right now … bro­ken us.”

Af­ter this de­ci­sion was made, vol­un­teers at the DDO de­cided to form their own group, YRAA, to try and pick up ne­go­ti­a­tions with the town un­der a sep­a­rate ban­ner.

“The RASC-TC de­cided that it wasn’t worth ne­go­ti­at­ing over,” said Ed­ward Hitch­cock, sec­re­tary for YRAA and for­mer tele­scope operator at the observatory

“That left all of the peo­ple who had been vol­un­teer­ing and op­er­at­ing at the fa­cil­ity for the pre­vi­ous eight years kind of in a lurch. Quite lit­er­ally, we’ve spent thou­sands of hours and blood, sweat and tears on the place.”

Ac­cord­ing to Hitch­cock, the reg­u­lar vol­un­teers at the observatory joined the new group, which took over the DDO.ca web­site and Face­book page and con­tin­ued to or­ga­nize events, in­clud­ing an eclipse-view­ing event at the Rich­mond Hill Pub­lic Li­brary that was at­tended by 5,000 peo­ple, by Hitch­cock’s es­ti­ma­tion.

Town staff opened up a re­quest for ex­pres­sions of in­ter­est to man­age the fa­cil­ity and in­vited pro­pos­als from 35 or­ga­ni­za­tions on fu­ture pro­gram­ming at the DDO. By late Fe­bru­ary 2016, five pro­pos­als were re­ceived.

Ac­cord­ing to Shane Baker, Rich­mond Hill’s com­mis­sioner of com­mu­nity ser­vices, York Re­gion Astron­omy pro­posed an ex­clu­sive use agree­ment, whereas the other or­ga­ni­za­tions were will­ing to take on a col­lab­o­ra­tive role in pro­gram­ming. He cited this as the ba­sis of their de­ci­sion not to rec­om­mend the new group to coun­cil.

“Frankly, we were part­ner­ing with RASC, who were the ones who had been do­ing it for years and years and years,” said Baker. “Now the YRAA will tell you, ‘ Well, yes, but it was our group of peo­ple as part of RASC who did that.’ But it was RASC’s pro­gram structure and ex­pe­ri­ence that we wanted to part­ner with.”

Although the York Re­gion Astron­omy As­so­ci­a­tion has ef­fec­tively dis­banded, many of its mem­bers, with the ex­cep­tion of Hitch­cock and some of the core or­ga­niz­ers, have re­tained their RASC-TC mem­ber­ships.

“[Mem­bers of YRAA] are also in­vited to pro­vide astron­omy out­reach pro­gram­ming un­der the RASC ban­ner fol­low­ing our man­date and mis­sion of pub­lic out­reach, ” said Wheel­band.

Town staff hope to re­sume ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram­ming at the DDO in Jan­uary.

Quite lit­er­ally, we’ve spent thou­sands of hours and blood, sweat and tears on the place.”

The his­toric David Dun­lap Observatory (Photo credit: Christopher Luk)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.