Renovation of the Campus Observatory

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Our Funding Statement

Charlie Schweighauser in the 14-inch telescope dome at an early Star Party (UIS Archives)

Since 1976, UIS Star Parties have welcomed 50,000 – 100,000 people to the wonders of the universe.  These events are one of the very few *free* science education programs for kids and families in Central Illinois.  We need your support to sustain the program’s excellence.

We are very grateful for the generous gifts from many donors which came together to replace and upgrade the +40-year old deck.  It has inspired us to do to improve the experience and accessibility for our patrons.

The crowd at Friday Night Star Party (circa 2012) illuminated by red lights.

Many patrons tell us they remember coming as a child and are now bringing their kids or grandkids. Through your gifts, you have the power help us educate, interest and transform the perspectives of children, youth and adults. Please give generously to sustain this program for future generations.

Donate to the Astronomy-Physics Program fund in support of these projects.

What we are planning

The Deck (Phase I – **Completed**)

An exterior view of the new Campus Observatory deck from the stairwell door.

In 2020 we replaced the original Star Party deck on the roof of Brookens Library.  This $150,000 project was made possible by generous community donations.  The COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from hosting any in-person events.  We will definitely have a grand opening celebration when concerns for the pandemic subside.

A view of inside the new Campus Observatory deck from the east end facing the telescope dome.

Here are some highlights of the new design:

  • Uses composite decking materials that meet fire code and minimize maintenance costs.
  • Uses existing footings to minimize the cost.
  • Move the entrance to the deck to the middle of the north side to allow for better crowd management around small telescopes on the east end of the deck.
  • The design for the new Star Parties Deck on the roof of Brookens LibraryBump out the southwest corner of the deck, giving us more space and accommodating future changes to the 14-inch telescope enclosure.
  • Move the storage shed off the deck.
  • Move the benches closer to the wall, giving more space on the deck.
  • Replace the red incandescent lights with dimmable red LED strip lighting mounted under the benches.

Donate to the Astronomy-Physics Program fund in support of these projects.

The Accessibility (Phase II – **In progress**)

Our accessible telescope is set up for people using wheel chairs at our Sunday Star Parties.

Sunday Night accessible Star Parties setup to accommodate people who have trouble with steps or use wheel chairs have been part of our public program for decades.  But the ramp up to the roof door is no longer ADA compliant (it is too steep) and the door to the roof is also oddly shaped and set.  Fitting a replacement to the ramp or another solution in the available space will be a challenge and probably will include moving non-load bearing walls and reconfiguring the storage space for the observatory.

As of Spring 2022, we have completed the designs and the approvals for the upgrades. The work is scheduled to be done over the spring and summer. We hope it will be completed by Fall 2022.

Estimated cost for accessibility upgrades:  ~ $30,000

Donate to the Astronomy-Physics Program fund in support of these projects.

The 14-inch telescope Dome on the roof of Brookens Library is an iconic fixture associated with Star Parties.

The 14-inch Telescope Dome (Phase III)

The 14-inch telescope dome has a raised floor accessed via a short vertical ladder.  The single access door for the dome also slows down how fast we can serve large crowds during Star Parties.  The dome itself is iconic, we couldn’t imaging Star Parties without it, so we want to preserve it.

We are re-imagining the telescope enclosure so that it eliminates the ladder climb and has two doors.  We haven’t settled on a design but we are keeping our options open in the design for the new deck.

Estimated cost to renovate the telescope enclosure/dome:  ~$250,000

Donate to the Astronomy-Physics Program fund in support of these projects.

The Interior Space (Phase IV)

Children about learning about the Moon at a Sangamon Auditorium Event in 2009.

The entry area and storage space for the campus observatory is carved out of the machine room on the 5th floor of Brookens Library.  If the spruced up deck were ever used as a general event space, we would need an adjacent staging area and I dream about the possibility of a small classroom to teach astronomy labs in next to the observatory.

We are exploring the possibilities in that space as well.

Donate to the Astronomy-Physics Program fund in support of these projects.

A Personal Appeal

Answering questions from children at a Friday Night Star Party in 2014.

I’ve been inspired by how Star Parties are thought of in the Springfield area.  Astronomy is truly a charmed profession as almost everyone you meet has at least a little curiosity about what you do.  But I don’t get the same reception from a stranger when I say, “I’m a professor of astronomy at UIS” as if I say, “I’m the UIS Star Party guy.” The reputation of UIS Star Parties in Central Illinois is special.

I remember handing out Halloween treats at my house and a kid who after getting candy just stood there and stared at me.  When the crowd on the door step cleared and the kid was alone I asked, “Are you OK?” The reply was, “You are the Star Party guy!”  It has been a joy helping kids look through the telescope week after week, always with a fresh set of questions.  The adults bringing them tell me about how they know this is important to their kid because it is also important to them.

We want to continue the work started by my predecessor Charlie Schweighauser to provoke and satisfy curiosity and reach more people for the next forty years and beyond.  Our community eternally grateful to you and me for making these opportunities possible for them through UIS Star Parties.

More information

Donate to the Astronomy-Physics Program fund in support of these projects.

For more information about the planned renovations of the campus observatory please contact John Martin (, 217/206-8342).

Fundraising pledge card for campus observatory renovations.