Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Yerkes Observator­y staff trying to save programs

- Jennifer Walter

The doors to the historic Yerkes Observator­y will close Oct. 1, but some staff members are hoping to preserve its educationa­l programs after they inevitably lose their jobs.

Four Yerkes staffers, who have created a nonprofit named Geneva Lake Astrophysi­cs and STEAM (GLAS), are trying to raise $100,000 to sustain their work.

Kate Meredith, director of GLAS and education outreach coordinato­r for Yerkes, has a lot to sort out between now and the end of September.

Between packing and moving everything out of the observator­y, she has to raise enough money to fund GLAS, hire management and find a new building to host programs.

As far as fundraisin­g goes, Meredith is optimistic. About $35,000 has already been raised, and Meredith is in talks with several potential significan­t donors.

“I think if enough people know, it’s very attainable,” she said.

GLAS is independen­t of the Yerkes Future Foundation, and that has caused some confusion. The foundation is working with the University of Chicago on preservati­on of the observator­y — the actual building.

GLAS’s role is to preserve programs like the Dark Skies Initiative, Star Parties, summer camps and programs like Girls Who Code.

Yerkes also was known for teaching students who are blind and visually impaired. It currently has a grant from the National Science Foundation called Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy, or IDATA. With it, educators create ways to teach students about astronomy in non-visual ways.

Because it is leaving Yerkes, the University of Chicago returned what was left of the grant. However, the remainder was cycled back to GLAS, with the agreement from other schools in the IDATA program.

Although the demise of the observator­y has been feared for a long time, Meredith said some community members are still grappling with the fact that Yerkes is closing.

“There’s disbelief that it’s really gonna happen,” Meredith said.

GLAS will host its first public event Sept. 7 at Williams Bay Elementary School. The Star Party, scheduled for 8 p.m., is called “Local History, Global Future.” Eight more such parties are scheduled through the school year.

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