From Elk Creek Observatory
to Banner Creek Science Center
Banner Creek Science Center & Observatory was previously known as the Elk Creek Observatory (ECO). 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 Karen and Mike 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 Kansas University, in November 2000.
Students learned how to do CCD imaging and how to use the images for research. In the Summer of 2003, students wanted to get a larger telescope to use for projects. In July, Elk Creek Observatory housed a Meade 16" LX 200 GPS telescope for projects. This enabled them to get more light gathering power (a larger lens) for projects.
In May 2003, Mike Ford presented a program to the Holton High School Alumni about the observatory. Since no one knew the observatory existed, it was a great opportunity to explain the facility and tell what projects were being worked on by students. After the presentation, several alums expressed interest in the project. Alumnus Bill Zirger had asked what would be the ultimate to work with and how much would it cost. After thinking about this for a couple of weeks, a list of equipment was put together with the cost. The entire package was right around $150,000! The material list and cost was sent to Bill, where he and fellow alumnus Dennis Blossom talked to another alumnus, Senator Pat Roberts, about getting this funded for the school district.
In December 2003, Senator Roberts called and talked to Coach Brooks Barta to congratulate him on winning the State 4A Football Championship AND told him to tell Mike that he had put in an appropriation for the observatory in the 2003 budget. Another phone call was received later in December from Senator Robert's assistant, Keith Yahle, who said the budget had passed the House and Senate and was on its way to the President to be signed into law. At that point, the newly equipped observatory was a reality. The appropriated funds would be provided through the Department of Education's Technology Initiative Program.
February 2004 was a busy month writing a grant to the Department of Education to show how the funds would be used and people involved in the project. After completion of the grant in late March, it was approved in June, and allocation of funds began in August.
As of November 2004, a new dome was installed, the new robotic mount, new Dell computers, software, a new large format STL-1301E CCD camera from Santa Barbara Instruments Group, and a new portable, 30-foot diameter Starlab planetarium! The telescope itself is an RC Optical Systems 20-inch reflector which had been used at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona. The optical tube was shipped out of Flagstaff, Arizona on Monday, November 29 and arrived on December 6th! All of the electronics were received on December 7th!
With the kind assistance of Gary Hug of the Northeast Kansas Amateur Astronomers League (NEKAAL) and HHS Advanced Space Science students, the observatory was up and running in late December 2004. A re-dedication was held in March 2005!
Banner Creek Science Center & Observatory (BCSCO) is now a significant expansion of the old ECO Observatory. The BCOSC Board of Directors is in the process of raising $35,000 to complete Phase One of a two-phase construction project. Phase Two will be the construction of a $4.5 million, 17,000 square foot observatory and classroom building which will house the existing observatory equipment, new labs, and new classrooms.
Phase One was initiated at the BCSC Board of Directors meeting on 17 Sep 2010. Phase One is now completed and has established a visible and functional presence at the site so that potential commercial and private donors can be assured that the Banner Creek Science Center & Observatory is a viable research facility, and that the community is in support of the project. Your donations of cash, materials, and labor have made this project an outstanding success. Thank You!
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 20-inch telescope has been relocated to the science center building at the 22275 N Road site (2.5 miles West of Holton on Hwy 16, then 3/4 mile south). 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. Other observations will be conducted via portable 14- and 16-inch telescopes on outdoor viewing pads. After the permanent (Phase 2) building is constructed, the Phase One building will be converted to a storage and maintenance facility.
It’s the goal of the Phase One BCOSC to be a K-5 science classroom extension which will provide meaningful learning experiences that can’t be duplicated in a traditional classroom setting. Our Astronomy and Science Family Classes and Seminars are designed to convey why science matters; to ignite flames of curiosity; to stimulate an interest in the STEM fields; to have fun making discoveries along the way; to create an attitude of "Wow! I've got to find out more about this!"
In Phase Two both curriculum and special programs will be developed around the unique terrain and landscape within the 1500 acres surrounding Banner Creek Lake. The goal of the BCOSC is to develop a full-time, low-cost curriculum for students of the schools, colleges and universities in our area, as well as informative mini-seminars for the “drop-in” scholars — children and adults alike. A further goal of the BCSC is to instill in all visitors a sense of belonging to the natural world and give them the understanding that we are all connected: to each other biologically; to the earth chemically; and to the universe atomically.