Publish Date

Our Funding Statement

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 grateful for the generous gifts from many donors that came together to replace and upgrade the deck, which was more than 40 years old. It has inspired us to continue to improve the experience and accessibility for our patrons.

Many patrons tell us they remember coming as a child and are now bring 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.

Click here to make your gift to the UIS Astronomy Program Fund and be a part of improving the observatory for all to enjoy.

What we are planning

The Deck (Phase I – **Completed**)

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. Some of the new design's highlights include:

An exterior view of the new Campus Observatory
deck from the stairwell door.
  • Used composite decking materials that meet fire code and minimize maintenance costs.
  • Used existing footings to minimize the cost.
  • Moved 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.
  • Bumped out the southwest corner of the deck, giving us more space and accommodating future changes to the 14-inch telescope enclosure.
  • Moved the storage shed off the deck.
  • Moved the benches closer to the wall, giving more space on the deck.
  • Replaced the red incandescent lights with dimmable red LED strip lighting mounted under the benches.

The Accessibility (Phase II – up next!)

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

Sunday Night accessible Star Parties, which are set up to accommodate people who have trouble with steps or use wheelchairs, have been part of our public program for decades. But the ramp up to the roof door is steep and no longer ADA compliant, and the door to the roof is 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.

Estimated cost for accessibility upgrades: About $30,000

The 14-inch Telescope Dome (Phase III)

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

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: About $250,000

Children learn about the moon at a Sangamon
Auditorium Event in 2009.

The Interior Space (Phase IV)

The entry area and storage space for the campus observatory is carved out of the machine room on the fifth 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.

A Personal Appeal

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.

John Martin

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 40 years and beyond. Our community is eternally grateful to you and me for making these opportunities possible for them through UIS Star Parties.

More information

For more information about the planned renovations of the campus observatory please contact John Martin by emailing or calling 217-206-8342.