THE BCSCO STORY
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Banner Creek Science Center & Observatory, was previously known as the Elk Creek Observatory. The ECO was founded in 2000, and became the only high school-owned observatory in the world. It was originally built with grant funds from the Christa McAuliffe Grant Foundation, named after teacher Christa McAuliffe, who died in the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster. The grant request was written by science teacher Mike Ford and his wife, English teacher Karen Ford.
The original grant was in the amount of $31,200, which funded a 14-inch telescope, robotic mount, fiberglass dome, and a CCD camera. USD 336 also assisted with the funding for the building, which was designed and built by Bob Phillips' woodworking class. The observatory construction was completed in late October 2000 and dedicated by Dr. Bruce Twarog, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Kansas in November 2000.
In May 2003, Mike Ford presented a program to the Holton High School Alumni about the observatory. After the presentation, alumnus William Zirger expressed an interest in helping to secure funding for an upgraded observatory. Bill Zirger, fellow alumnus Dennis Blossom and another alumnus, Senator Pat Roberts discussed getting the needed funding.
In December 2003, Senator Roberts secured appropriated funds through the Department of Education's Technology Initiative Program. After Mike Ford completed the grant in late March, it was approved in June, and allocation of funds began in August. This represented a significant upgrade.
The BCSC Board of Directors meeting on 17 Sep 2010 initiated a plan to construct a new observatory with unobscured views of the skies away from the original site of Elk Creek Observatory near the HHS football field. Jackson County leased the land to the center near Banner Creek Reservoir, a perfect area for dark skies and nature studies. Some preliminary dirt work was started in early October of 2010, then suspended as Winter weather set in. Construction, including the Morton building, resumed as of March 2011, and as of 31 May 2012 was completed and dedicated. The BCSC building houses the observatory and a 1200 square foot classroom area — much larger and more accommodating than the old ECO building. Most observation research activity and imaging will be conducted via CCD camera, PC, and 70-inch monitor in the climate-controlled classroom. The observatory features a 24 inch Planewave CDK telescope, one of the largest in northeast Kansas. Other observations will be conducted via portable 14- and 16-inch telescopes on outdoor viewing pads.
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