Nearly 300 people crowded into the ballroom at the Community Center Wednesday evening, Oct. 16, to be among the first to see the concept for the International Dark Sky Discovery Center (IDSDC) proposed for Fountain Hills.
The crowd seemed to like what it saw and heard in the presentation by IDSDC President Joe Bill. Outside the front door of the Community Center there was a telescope set up to give those interested a view of Saturn.
The enthusiasm needs to carry through, as now begins the arduous task of raising $18 million in private funding to make the project a reality.
Bill said they will focus the fundraising efforts on private corporate sponsorship agreements.
“Fundraising plans are in place, including naming rights opportunities,” Bill said. “By inspiring individuals and organizations to fund this exciting endeavor, we will fulfill IDSDC’s vision to engage, educate, and stir imaginations.”
Targeted for an opening in the Fountain Hills town center in 2021 or 2022 the center will feature four distinct educational attractions: A Dark Sky Observatory, a Hyperspace Planetarium, an Inspiration Theater and an Immersion Zone filled with interactive exhibits and a featured dark sky immersion experience.
Arizona State University has shown its support for the project with students from the ASU School of Public Affairs in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions preparing a feasibility study for the Discovery Center.
That study concluded in part, “the (IDSDC) will fill a gap in space-science education for the local and neighboring area school districts. The market for observatories and planetariums has shown its resolve through similar facilities that are able to sustain themselves. Not only does the IDSDC contribute to the local economy in Fountain Hill, but also to the global astro-tourism industry.”
As an educational opportunity, ASU President Michael Crow offered his support.
“Arizona State University looks forward to developing a collaborative relationship with the International Dark Sky Discovery Center,” Crow said.
According to Bill the 27.5-inch PlaneWave research grade telescope at the observatory would be the only such telescope in the Phoenix area, creating a wide variety of educational opportunities for ASU, community colleges and high schools.
The project was also able to get the endorsement of Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.
“The International Dark Sky Discovery Center is an exciting opportunity for students and amateur stargazers alike,” Ducey said. “The center will be another tremendous asset to keep our state at the forefront of STEM education.”
Night sky experiences are an important part of astrotourism, a travel experience that is rapidly growing worldwide. Many visitors already travel to Arizona specifically to tour its many astronomy-related facilities. By becoming an additional attraction for Arizona, the IDSDC intends to participate in the astrotourism phenomenon and further Arizona’s reputation as the astronomy state.
“Dark sky tourism is a major draw for the State of Arizona, and we believe the (IDSDC) will be an extraordinary asset for our state,” said Debbie Johnson, executive director, Arizona Office of Tourism.
Ted Blank, vice president of the IDSDC’s board and a NASA Solar System Ambassador, said the IDSDC will be unique in the world.
“No other facility focuses on dark sky preservation as a portal to better understanding astronomy, the space program, the universe and the importance of having dark skies for life on Earth,” Blank said.
In 2018, Fountain Hills was recognized as an International Dark Sky Community by the International Dark Sky Association for its efforts to preserve its dark skies.
“Educating people about the wonders of the night sky and the importance of preserving dark skies is a goal we share with the International Dark Sky Discovery Center,” said Ruskin Hartley, the executive director, International Dark Sky Association.
The 15,000 square-foot facility is slated for property within the Cutillo Civic Center area along the Centennial Circle adjacent to the Library/Museum and Community Garden.
“As the 17th International Dark Sky Community in the world, our town is a perfect location for the International Dark Sky Discovery Center and we strongly support the collaborative effort,” said Fountain Hills Mayor Ginny Dickey.