Submitted Friends of Dominion Astrophysical Observatory Society chair Ben Dorman; volunteer Aria Gates-Smith; and society board member Jennine Gates; stand near the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. The group will host a fundraiser Saturday featuring CBC journalist Bob McDonald.

Fundraiser seeks to revive Saanich science centre

The group committed to reviving a public science centre closed by the federal government in 2013 will hold a major fundraiser Saturday.

CBC science journalist Bob McDonald and Vox Humana Choir will headline the Earth and Friends fundraiser organized by the Friends of Dominion Astrophysical Observatory Society (FDAO).

The group formed in 2014 to revive the Centre of Universe interpretive centre next to the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory on West Saanich Road. The federal government closed the facility citing budget reasons, a move which also closed public access to the observatory, now approaching its centennial.

Saturday’s fundraiser is the second fundraiser that the group had organized as part of its efforts to revive the facility.

Ben Dorman, who previously worked at NASA and currently chairs FDAO, said it is currently taking “baby-steps” towards meeting its fund-raising goals.

“When the federal government used to fund this place until 2013, they put in more than a quarter-million dollars,” said Dorman. “That is a long way from where we are at the moment.”

This said, Dorman said his group believes that it will ultimately convince the federal government to kick money in again, if it can demonstrate public support through fundraisers like Saturday’s.

“We made enough during last year’s fundraiser… to tidy us over for this year, but we need to get that money back, because we put it to good use,” said Dorman.

“We have incorporated as B.C. non-profit society just under two years ago and we have applied for federal charitable status,” he said. ‘We should get that within a couple of months. The application is already in and being processed. Once we do that, we will be in a much better position to receive charitable donations.”

Dorman said FDAO wants to raise funds for several objectives.

They include funding for instructors, stipends for volunteers and equipment upgrades that would give visitors access to the latest astronomy news and telescope live streams.

Overall, the group wants to ensure that the public can access the facility and its resources.

Starting Saturday April 29, the facility will be open to the public for 19 nights this summer, up from 12 last summer, said Dorman.

“But what we really, really want to do is to have it open during the day as well,” he said. “What we really want to do, is it turn it back into an education centre that is available to people all the time, that there is somebody here all the time, who allows school groups to come here and lead them.”

This agenda would also frame the facility as a small science museum to the general public and as an attraction for tourists.

As for other areas, Dorman said the group is doing well on volunteer front. One of those volunteers is Aria Gates-Smith, the 13-year-old lead presenter in the Centre’s Planetarium.

“I loved coming up here when I was younger,” said she said. “It was the one place that I would ask to go to over and over and over again.”

The closure of the facility devastated her, Gates-Smith said.

“When my mom got on the board, I gradually got to learn the Planetarium, because it was the favourite part of this place. You could go in there and see the stars, even when it was cloudy outside. And I absolutely loved the stories of constellations. They always fascinated me.”

Now, the FDAO is hoping that this fascination will spread and eventually convince the federal government to re-consider the decision of its predecessor.

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com