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Center of the Universe in Saanich to close at the end of summer

The Centre of the Universe, a public interpretative centre at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, is being shut down at the end of the summer due to budget cutbacks. - Sharon Tiffin/News staff
The Centre of the Universe, a public interpretative centre at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, is being shut down at the end of the summer due to budget cutbacks.
— image credit: Sharon Tiffin/News staff

The Centre of the Universe, a national historic site and a hub for astronomy education in Victoria, will be closed to the public for good at the end of the summer, due to budget cutbacks.

The National Research Council has confirmed that the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory interpretive center will close at the end of August, after the final student summer camps end. Two employees will lose their jobs and one will be reassigned, the NRC says. The facility has been open for 12 years.

"It's got to do with financial constraints," said Charles Drouin, spokesman for the NRC in Ottawa. "We do exercises that look at all the activities and programs, and rejig them. It was a tough decision, but one we felt we had to do."

The Centre of the Universe facility – which houses historical artifacts like the original 1.8 metre mirror from the Plaskett Telescope and runs historical tours, multimedia shows, and youth programs – costs about $32,000 to operate and $245,000 in employee wages, and brings in about $47,000 per year in revenue, giving the NRC a sum savings of $230,000 per year.

The NRC has a $900 million annual budget, covering 4,000 employees across 50 research facilities. The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory employs about 105 people in research and its machine shop.

Drouin confirmed that the active astronomy facility and national historic site will have no public outreach come late August or early September, and locals and visitors will no longer be able to tour the Plastkett Telescope, in operation since May 6, 1918.

"The senior management releases it's quite an impact for the community," Drouin said. "They take that into consideration for the decision."

Drouin said the decision to close the Centre of the Universe is not related to Ottawa's announcement in May to reorganize the NRC as an "industry-focused research and technology organization." "This was an independent exercise," he said.

The historical artifacts and displays in the Centre of the Universe building will remain in place after the facility is closed. Drouin said the NRC working with local community groups to find volunteers to use the space.

Drouin said in an unrelated decision, five research scientists at the NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics – the active astronomy and astrophysics research arm on the site – will lose their jobs.

The five researchers were attached to the 10-year Atacama Large Millimeter/sub-millimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope project, based in Chile. The project has concluded and the NRC could not find new jobs or projects for the employees, Drouin said. A sixth NRC employee working on an archive project with the Canadian Space Agency will also lose their job, as the project is finished.

Sid Sidhu, public outreach program co-ordinator of the Royal Astronomical Society, Victoria Centre, was disappointed to hear the news.

"Oh boy, that's a shame. That's not a good idea. Lots of schools will be suffering because the teachers like going to the Centre of the Universe," Sidhu said.

"Maybe we should take over that facility. … It seems that we will have to step up our efforts to expand our programs to cover what the CU staff were doing."

--with reporting from Kyle Slavin

editor@saanichnews.com

 

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