Historic Blue Hills Observatory teaches students, but needs money for new science center because of cramped conditions and few amenities
Nearly every day of the year students in elementary school to college make the hike to Great Blue Hill Observatory.
The 30-minute, 635-foot climb to the highest peak in the Blue Hills Reservation in hot summer weather is not the most difficult part of the day, say the 39 students from Northeastern University’s Exxon-Mobil Bernard Harris summer science program.
Waiting for water, a bathroom, and relief from the heat once they get there is harder.
“Everyone will get their turn,” Don McCasland, the observatory’s program coordinator said. “Everyone will be taken care of, just hang on for a bit.”
Water was passed out and runs to the one bathroom were prioritized by need, but students grumbled under their breath when they learned not all of them would get out of the hot sun for at least a half-hour.
“You can see when we have large groups, it can be difficult,” said Charles Orloff, the observatory’s executive director.
The need for more space and better amenities are main reasons the national landmark has begun to plan for a major expansion, the first since the observatory was opened in 1885 by Milton resident Abbott Lawrence Rotch, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate from a wealthy maritime family.
The concrete, castle-like observatory that predicted the intensity and withstood the killer Hurricane of 1938, has been restored and updated. Programs have been expanded to include a training program for university students and a women in natural sciences initiative for middle school girls.
Now it’s time for a science center, estimated at $7 to 10 million.
For two years CBT Architects in Boston has been drawing preliminary designs for a new facility.
The company worked for free until the State Legislature included $100,000 in the budget for design work.
The observatory, much like the reservation’s Trailside Museum, is a state facility, but a non-profit group, Blue Hill Observatory and Science Center, has been formed to operate and raise money for the weather station.
The new facility will include a 17,000 square-foot science center, a state of the art computer lab, an auditorium that will seat 100 people, two large classrooms, a function room, an observation deck and sleeping facilities for 24 students.
The project is expected to cost between $7 and $10 million. Orloff said. Another $2 to $5 million will be sought to establish an endowment that would make the observatory as self-sufficient as possible.
The group has recently hired a professional fundraiser and the hope is much of the money for the project will come from donations, sponsorships, and state and federal grants.
“The goal is to not ask the state for much,” Orloff said.
The project is ambitious, and expensive, in part because the contractor, Braintree’s Goldman Environmental, must use heavy equipment instead of dynamite to break up the purple and gray boulders that surround the observatory.
Preliminary site work is on-going, but construction will not begin until the group has enough money.
A fundraising kick-off party will be held in the fall and if all goes well it will garner the donations needed to begin.
“We wouldn’t even start it without $1 million in the bank,” Orloff said. “What would get us going is $1 million with a matching donation.”
L.E. Campenella of The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.) may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.