Observe an opportunity: Island astronomers team with BARN to refurbish Battle Point telescope

Would-be stargazers will soon have a chance to grasp the heavens by getting their hands dirty right here on Bainbridge Island.

The coordinators of a collaborative effort between the Battle Point Astronomical Association, the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network and the city of Bainbridge Island are seeking volunteers to assist in an upcoming construction project to upgrade the workings of the telescope in the Edwin E. Ritchie Observatory at Battle Point Park — no experience (astronomical or otherwise) is required.

“We will be upgrading the Ritchie telescope drive and control systems, repairing the observatory dome, and widening the dome aperture and shutter,” explained Carolyn Goodwin, BARN spokeswoman. “We are going to be making parts from machine drawings … to upgrade the declination drive on the Ritchie telescope at Battle Point. This is a great opportunity to work on intermediate level machine parts with the assistance of an instructor.”

Recently, BPAA and BARN were awarded a cultural funding grant of $20,000 by the city to support the effort. The grant will cover the cost of materials, with labor coming from BARN teachers and volunteers who take classes there to learn things such as machining, welding, woodworking and electronics.

“With these skills, volunteers will continue work in open studio time to complete the parts and assemblies, then install them at the observatory,” Goodwin said.

There will be a meeting for those interested in participating at 1 p.m. Sunday, March 25 at BARN (8890 Three Tree Lane NE), in the Great Room to discuss the project and form up to six two-person teams centered around one or more parts.

Instructors will be Stan Stumbo, Jerry Erickson and Peter Moseley.

“Each team will take responsibility for developing the processes and procedures to make the parts from prints,” Goodwin said. “Over several sessions, to be held at times agreeable to the teams, you will actually fabricate and inspect the parts. This will be an intermediate level series of classes and participants must have taken the ‘Introduction to Milling’ and one of the lathe classes as a minimum.”

BPAA president Steve Ruhl said the improved facility would go a long way toward ensuring continued quality community programs could be held at the observatory.

The facility is currently, he said, assembled and equipped in a style club members affectionately refer to as “someplace in between dorm room special and Rotary auction leftovers.”

Ruhl said the group also hopes to improve the furnishings in the planetarium and the upstairs office/library.

“We’d kind of like to be able to put the books up on real shelves, get it organized and that sort of thing,” he said.

The telescope, though, is unquestionably the main attraction.

Or, at least the cool stuff it allows you to see is the main attraction, and the refurbishment work to be done by BARN volunteers will be a real boon to the facility, Ruhl said.

“The telescope is 25 years old now, so we’ve gone through some machinations about how to make it better,” he said. “A telescope’s one of those things that never are complete; you always want to make them better.”

The main focus of the first meeting, however, is the most complex: the telescope gears.

“We’ve got the drawings, we’re ready to go,” Ruhl said. “We’ve got steel. It’s just a matter of cutting it out and making it the shape we want it to be so the bearings go in and the axles go in and everything works smoothly.”