Monday, August 26, 2013

As Centre of the Universe readies to close, fight to keep it open continues

Saanich South MLA Lana Popham plans to collect signatures outside
the Centre of the Universe today in a bid to keep the Saanich facility
open. The act is more a celebration than a protest, she says.
Photograph by: BRUCE STOTESBURY, Times Colonist 
AUGUST 23, 2013
After members of the public peer through the telescope at the Centre of the Universe for the last time tonight, a campaign to save the science education centre will continue.
Saanich South MLA Lana Popham plans to be at the centre today collecting signatures for a petition asking the federal government to restore funding to the centre, the public education arm of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory.
“I don’t believe that closing the Centre of the Universe is an option,” Popham said Friday.
“Whether or not the federal funding comes back, for me at this point, it’s beside the point. We have to figure out a way to keep it going.”

Today marks the last day the facility, at 5071 West Saanich Rd., will be open to the public. Its hours are 3:30 to 11:15 p.m. Final entry is at 10 p.m.
The federal government announced plans in June to end public access and programming at the facility as a cost-cutting measure.
The facility cost an average of $310,000 a year to run and brought in between $50,000 and $60,000 in revenue, said Greg Fahlman, general manager of the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics.
“This is part of a larger budget reduction that the entire observatory took,” Fahlman said.
Total budget cuts to the observatory were roughly $1.8 million, he said.
As a result of the closing, 3 1/2 full-time positions were cut, Fahlman said, as were three to four summer student positions. One full-time staff member will be reassigned.
The Centre of the Universe, which opened in 2001, attracted between 8,000 and 10,000 visitors a year, including schoolchildren, families and academics. The space has reached its 150-person capacity every Saturday of this month, with many visitors turned away at the door.
Emmet McCusker plans to bring his daughter and grandson to the centre today.
“It’s a cool place and I think it’s an important sort of educational opportunity; it’s inspirational for kids and even for adults,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that this opportunity will be lost for other parents and grandparents to take their kids and grandchildren in the future.”
Popham, a provincial politician, said the federal funding decision is affecting local education.
“In Saanich, all of our public and private schools use this as an educational facility,” she said.
“My own child has toured there and loved it. And if you ask any parent, they all appreciate the value of hands-on learning, especially when it comes to science.”
Popham could not say how many people have signed the petitions, as they have not been collected yet.
A separate petition created at by Don Moffatt, who conducted public education at the observatory in the 1990s, had more than 1,500 signatories Friday.
If the petitions fail, Popham said alternative options like forming a non-profit society to run the space may be explored.
Popham said her table, which will be located at a distance from the Centre of the Universe’s entrance at the bottom of the hill, is less a protest than a celebration of “something fantastic.”
“There’s some frustration and anger and disappointment around the closing, but most people are just supportive and trying to figure out how to keep it open,” she said.