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Deschutes County

‘A real jewel’ is growing: Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory starts big campus expansion

(Update: Adding video, more info, comments from manager)

New facility and equipment to observe the sky

SUNRIVER, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Central Oregon's clear nights make for dazzling views of the night the sky. To accommodate steadily growing interest, the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory is getting an expansive makeover.

Construction began Thursday on a long-planned expansion of its observatory and upgrades to the current building.

Sunriver is a designated International Dark Sky site, meaning the night sky is protected for optimal viewing. The new facility will have six more telescopes, different space for exhibits, and hands-on learning experiences. It will also be open year-round.

Bob Grossfeld, the observatory manager, says locals should take advantage of the facility in their backyard.

"This facility is a real jewel for the local community," he said Friday. "I think people here have the opportunity to do something they can't do anywhere else on the planet," He said. "Central Oregon has done such a great job at protecting the night sky -- Sunriver is the first Oregon Dark Sky site, and we've done so much to protect the night sky."

The expansion will double its capacity, so more people can go observe the stars and planets from Sunriver. It will also allow for more educational opportunities.

"I think the kids today are going to be the future," Grossfield. "They're going to learn more in the next 40 years than we've learned in the last 400 -- and we're giving them access to the tools to show them the night sky."

Grossfeld also is hopeful admission prices can actually be reduced, as the facility will be able to hold more people.

Phase 1 of the project is expected to be completed in July.

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Here is the full release from the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory:

Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory announced Thursday it has begun construction for expansion of its observatory, nearly doubling its footprint.

“SNCO’s observatory has seen a steady increase in demand and attendance over the past three decades, outpacing capacity. This expansion will ensure an improved visitor experience,” said Abby Rowland, executive director of the Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory. “We are grateful to have incredible support from the Murdock Trust and a community of donors to help us make this a reality.”

The organization is undergoing a two-phase expansion to increase the organization’s overall capacity and provide facilities that support contemporary exhibits to address the environmental themes of today.

The first phase, costing about $800,000, includes an expanded observatory and upgrading utilities infrastructure for the future building of the Discovery Center. The doubled capacity of the observatory will serve more visitors, including those who vacation in Sunriver, residents of Central Oregon, and school groups from K-12 and higher education. 

SNCO seeks to increase knowledge of basic physical and space science among students and visitors by creating an environment of discovery through hands-on and interactive experiences. At night, visitors can observe stars, planets, and other deep sky objects in Sunriver’s dark skies. During the day, the observatory has specialized equipment for observing the sun. In the future, the expansion will allow the observatory to expand its programs with colleges and universities to access telescopes remotely for education and research. 

Master planning of the overall campus modernization and detailed design of the observatory expansion was led by Steele and Associates Architects, LLC of Bend. “We are excited to play a role in helping grow the capacity of the observatory,” said Scott Steele, president/principal of Steele Associates Architects. “We have been long-time supporters of the programs at [SNCO] and were eager to lead the design.”

Kellcon, Inc. of Bend has been chosen as General Contractor for the project, which is expected to be completed in July, 2021. Site work has already begun on the expansion. 

“This is an exciting time for our organization. We’ve had this vision for our future, and we are thrilled to see it starting to come to fruition. Especially on the heels of such a challenging year for many,” said David Buhaly, president, SNCO board of directors.

For more information on giving and naming opportunities, please contact Abby Rowland at abby@snco.org. Visit snco.org to make a donation to the project.  

About Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory

Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory (SNCO) was founded in 1968 with the Sunriver community. John Gray, the visionary and developer behind Sunriver, envisioned a place where people would rediscover nature and where nature could be built into the framework of the community. This concept was so important that SNCO was conceived and established as a fundamental unit of this new development. 52 years later, SNCO continues to serve as an important local environmental resource, while also reaching far beyond its community in pursuit of its original mission to inspire present and future generations to cherish and understand the natural world.

The observatory, with the United States’ largest array of telescopes available for public viewing, takes maximum advantage of Sunriver’s dark skies and Oregon’s only designated International Dark Sky Place. The dome was first constructed in 1990 and in 1999 the starport was added. 

Situated 15 miles south of Bend, OR, and located on SNCO’s 8-acre campus, the observatory offers easy access to the public and students. The current facility and equipment have been mainly used for observational astronomy.

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.

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