Reach For The Stars

After providing 50 years of service to aspiring astronauts and amateur astronomers alike, the structure housing the Martz Observatory is ready for an upgrade.

Board members of the Marshal Martz Memorial Astronomical Association have made the decision to seek outside funding in the form of grants to cover the replacement costs of their current facility, while moving forward with plans to build an entirely new one.

Originally founded as the private observatory of former Jamestown Community College professor Marshal Martz, the facility has since been bequeathed to the MMMAA. According to Gary Nelson, board president of the observatory, the current structure is not only in poor condition, but is also inadequate in both size and functional capacity.

“We’re making the building look better than it actually is,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the ultimate goal in expanding the facility is to tear down and replace the existing structure surrounding the room in which the observatory’s dual-mounted 24-inch Dahl Kirkham and 16-inch Ritchey Chretian telescopes are housed. The expansion will serve a two-fold purpose: to accommodate for the relocation of Dr. Ronald Kohl’s bestowal of a DMF telescope and other accessories – a project Nelson refers to as the “Telescope Relocation Project”; and to upgrade the facility to eventually serve as an educational facility in addition to a public observatory.

While the proposed expansion is in its infancy stage, Martz’s board has been working with a project manager in the creation and approval of architectural plans. Nelson said this is to assist in the observatory’s efforts to secure funding from local foundations.

“We want to have the preliminary plans done before the end of October because, in order to get funding, we have to apply in November,” he said. “So this isn’t a construction plan, it’s giving us a real plan for fundraising to show (the foundations) what’s going to happen.”

Nelson said some of the funding sources Martz will be applying to include the Sheldon Foundation, the Lenna Foundation and some larger companies who have donated to the observatory in the past, such as Cummins. The observatory will also be supplementing funding through its own fundraising efforts for the project – which, according to Nelson, is estimated to cost approximately $800,000 or more.

The featured additions to be awarded by a new structure would include a larger meeting room, handicap-accessible men’s and women’s bathrooms and a main control room to run each of the observatory’s telescopes individually and simultaneously. According to Nelson, the latter feature would be of benefit to several parties as Martz is working with the Frewsburg Central School district to allow students the opportunity to remotely control the observatory’s telescopes from within the school.

Nelson said the Martz board will be meeting with Chautauqua County’s school superintendents next month in order to offer its services in the public school system, using Frewsburg as a prototype.

“We’re not just dealing with astronomy, we’re also hitting on art, math, engineering and physics. And that’s why the schools are interested,” Nelson said.

If the process of securing funding goes according to plan, Nelson said he hopes to see construction of the new facility begin by the middle of summer.