Observatory officially opens at Ocean City High School

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OCEAN CITY – At the Friday, Sept. 28 ribbon cutting for the new observatory at Ocean City High School, Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said the 700-times magnification telescope would make it possible to “move the heavens and the stars into our classrooms.”

For Joe Burns, it was more like moving heaven and earth to get the project completed.

Burns, a manager with Engility Corp in Egg Harbor Township, was the first one onboard with the concept of building an observatory at the high school. An astronomer by training, Burns was instrumental in attracting $18,500 in funding for the $60,000 project, which is one of just a handful in the country built on public high school grounds.

From the moment in 1961 when he, as a first-grader, watched Alan Shepherd become the first American in space, Burns has been fascinated by aeronautics. Decades later, a chance meeting with his new neighbor, Ocean City High School science teacher Jen Bowen, led him on a seven-year odyssey that ended Friday evening with local and state dignitaries cutting the red ribbon strung in front of the circular building’s white door.

“I was setting up the telescope in the driveway for my wife, so she could see Jupiter and Saturn when Jen came over and introduced herself,” Burns said, recalling “a nice July evening” in 2005 when a conversation in his Egg Harbor Township yard became the inspiration for the state’s first public high school observatory.

Following remarks by Taylor, Mayor Jay Gillian, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, Ocean City Education Foundation chair Dave Allegretto, OCHS science teachers Matt Oster and a few others, OCHS science teacher John “Doc” Herrmann – whom Oster credited with introducing astronomy to South Jersey 27 years ago – opened the door on the dome and invited spectators into the observatory.

One of the first inside was Danny Millar, 11, a sixth-grader at Ocean City Intermediate School and an aspiring aerospace engineer.

“It’s going to be awesome for high schoolers and other kids to look up at the stars,” said Millar, the oldest son of Ocean City High School nurse Rose Millar. “It will help them picture things they are learning about in class.”

Burns, who sees this observatory as the first in a chain across the nation, said technology is the answer to helping the United States improve its global standing in science and math.

“It’s not on a mountaintop, but you can walk out the door and give a lesson,” Burns said, adding that the location of the observatory, between the track and the school along Fifth Street, was the most ideal for its intended purpose. The light pollution of Atlantic City is behind the observatory, Burns said, and because the telescope points up, the lights of the boardwalk are of little consequence.

Burns was one of a group of people thanked for their support in seeing the observatory through to completion. The Ocean City Free Public Library was acknowledged for its $25,000 contribution, Bob Garrison for architectural expertise, Russell Snow for construction, and Dan Canova for the structure’s exterior. Other contributors were John Perone for electrical work, Allegretto Plumbing, and Ocean City Home Bank. The city of Ocean City was thanked for its assistance in helping with the Green Acres permitting, and OCEF was lauded for its fundraising capabilities. Although no taxpayer money was used in building the observatory, it will be open to the public for scheduled events.

“It’s no surprise this is happening in Ocean City,” said LoBiondo, calling this “a great town with a can-do attitude.”

“It took seven years. In a society of instant gratification, that takes will,” he said.

Taylor said she’s confident Herrmann already has a calendar of astronomical events he’s eager to share with students and the public, and that a flat-screen television will eventually be installed in the structure to allow more than one person at a time to see what the telescope is seeing.

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Rose Millar, school nurse at Ocean City High School, with her children, from left, Danny, 11; Liam; 10, and Bridget, 7, at the dedication of the observatory. Danny, a sixth-grader at Ocean City Intermediate School and aspiring aerospace engineer, was one of the first to enter the new observatory Friday evening. Rose Millar, school nurse at Ocean City High School, with her children, from left, Danny, 11; Liam; 10, and Bridget, 7, at the dedication of the observatory. Danny, a sixth-grader at Ocean City Intermediate School and aspiring aerospace engineer, was one of the first to enter the new observatory Friday evening. Mayor Jay Gillian speaks Friday evening at the ribbon cutting for the observatory at Ocean City High School, a community-funded project that took seven years to complete. Mayor Jay Gillian speaks Friday evening at the ribbon cutting for the observatory at Ocean City High School, a community-funded project that took seven years to complete.


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