Minutes of the September 18, 2013 Board Meeting

Submitted by Michael Wright, Secretary

Attendees:
Jeff Bernardis, Director                        Gene Ramsey
Larry Kane, Assistant Director            Brian Van Liew
Michael Mitrano, Treasurer                 Bill Murray
Michael Wright, Secretary                   John Giles
Saul Moroz                                              Ludy D’Angelo
Ira Polans                                                John Miller
Prasad Ganti                                           John Church
Jennifer Skitt           

Director Jeff Bernardis opened the meeting.

Jenny Jump Observatory – Bill Murray reported that he made preparations for the scouts to make repairs to AAAP’s observatory at Jenny Jump. He gave his key to UACNJ, removed equipment from the observatory, and wrapped the scope in a tarp. He suggested that a member be present when the repairs are made.

Bill reported that UACNJ dues for member clubs will increase to $35 plus $1 per member, but capped at 100 members or $135. Individual memberships will increase to $40.

Security Camera at Simpson Observatory
Gene Ramsey reported that Officer Jackson of the park police told him that there was a break-in at Jenny Jump and suggested that a motion activated camera be installed in the observatory. John Giles reported that he research suitable cameras. They range from $100 to $1000. He felt that a suitable one could be purchase for about $350. The group discussed the features that the camera should have. Jeff asked John to bring his recommendation to the next club meeting. Michael Wright asked for the specifications to be emailed so that interested members could review them before the meeting.

New Observatory at W-C – Jeff said that the purpose of this special Board meeting was to increase member’s knowledge about the proposal to build a second observatory at Washington-Crossing Park because the general membership must vote whether to move ahead with the project. The five member planning committee has done an excellent job of researching the project’s feasibility, obtaining quotes, shepherding it through the approval process and keeping the club informed. Michael Mitrano clarified that according to the by-laws, the Board has to recommend funding of this magnitude. Approval of 30% of paid members is required to spend the funds.

Holding a straw vote at the October meeting to test member’s opinions was briefly discussed, but discounted because it would delay making a decision. Jeff felt that the club owed the donor an answer soon because we have been considering the donation for more than one year. Michael M. pointed out that permits still must be obtained before construction can start, so delaying a decision would push construction to the spring.

Ludy D’Angelo said that the club is building the observatory around the donated equipment. Is it worth spending this much additional money to use the donated equipment? The scope and mount are about ten years old, and they are same as the C14 and Paramount in the existing observatory. He suggested that the club should decline the donation, or accept the donation and sell the equipment.

Brian Van Liew and John Church asked whether the scope and mount are in workable condition. Jeff and Ludy visited the storage facility with the donor last year, but could not inspect the equipment because it was boxed. Michael M. said that the owner represented that the equipment was in working order when he shipped it from Vermont to NJ.

Jeff suggested that the club take possession of the equipment before proceeding with the observatory construction.

Saul Moroz asked for the cost. Michael M. explained what the $12,000 would fund: construction of the masonry structure, ring to support the dome, installation of a door and electrical service, and permit fees.

Saul proposed an alternative. He has an acquaint-ance who could make a 33-inch, f/3.3 mirror for the club. A Dobsonian scope could be made with this mirror for about $2000. It could be housed in an inexpensive shed at Washington-Crossing.

Ludy questioned why the club needs an expensive structure. Michael M. explained the need to mount the dome on a sturdy structure. An octagonal block structure the same diameter as the dome is the most economical solution because other materials, shapes and sizes would be difficult to construct and maintain.

John Miller endorsed the idea of accepting the donation and picking up the equipment before proceeding with construction.

Jeff reiterated that the club owes that donor an answer. He said we would need a place to store the equipment until the structure was ready.

John C. asked whether the club has to take the whole donation. Michael M. replied that we have not asked the donor; however, the answer would probably be “Yes.”

John G. volunteered to store the dome pieces in his 10’x10’ shed.

Ludy reiterated that the donated C14 and Paramount are the same age as the ones at Washington-Crossing.

Brian said a C14 is not an imaging scope. He suggested selling the C14 and buying another scope if imaging is the goal.

Michael M. said that the donor is anxious to unload the equipment and is not in a position to impose conditions on its use by the club. He questioned whether members will have this same discussion in a few months if we only accept the donation now and not make a decision to fund the project.

Ludy questioned the need for a permit for a structure this size. Michael M. replied that the lease requires park administration approval of any structures. The committee had many conversations with the NJDEP who administers park, Hopewell Township and the Department of Community Affairs. The conclusion was that a DCA construction permit is required.

John M. questioned the value of the observatory to the members and whether it will serve the intended purpose.

Ludy reiterated that the equipment is 2003-2006 vintage. Technology has advanced a lot since then.

Brian asked whether anyone has seen any photos taken with the equipment. Jeff said that the donor showed them some black-and-white pictures. Bill M. pulled up the photos on the donor’s website and showed them to Brian.

The group had a lengthy discussion about the location of the structure at the observatory. Michael M. said the site was selected in consultation with club members who are familiar with the original observatory construction and the site. He presented his estimates of sky visibility from the proposed location, the existing observatory and the east side of the property. Other factors considered were the use of the west side for by members on Friday nights, light from visitor’s headlights, the existing water line location, the ease of running electrical service and the visibility to thieves. The group did not reach a consensus about the best location.

John C. questioned whether it is feasible to have Internet service at the observatory. Michael M. said that one of the planning committee members proposes a cell-based system that he has installed in other locations. The service cost is about $30 to $40 per month, which is cheaper than the current phone service. VOIP could replace the existing phone.

Ludy said that remote astroimaging is very difficult to do. Brian agreed and added that sky conditions are only suitable for imaging about 10 nights per year. Michael Wright suggested that the new observatory would have other uses. Michael M. described how a video feed could be provided for visitors on public nights.

Bill reiterated that running a remote observatory is not “push button” easy. Saul reminded that remote observatories like New Mexico skies have on-site staff who fix mechanical problems for the users. Also, he said that many users on the Observadome forums report that they have not perfected remote operations after owning domes for four or five years.

Jeff polled the Board members present whether the motion to fund the project should be withdrawn. All agreed that it should be withdrawn.

Jeff suggested that the club accept the donation. The consensus was this was the best course of action because the equipment could be checked before committing to spending money on the observatory.

John M. suggested that Michael Carr would bench test the C14.

Ludy asked whether the donor still had the funds that were supposed to accompany the equipment. Michael M. said that he has probably used the funds to pay for storage.

John Giles, Saul Moroz, Ludy D’Angelo, John Mil-ler, and Larry Kane volunteered to pick up the equipment and transport it to John Giles’ shed. The group discussed the logistics of transporting the equipment, which was followed by a brief discussion about field-testing the Paramount. Jeff authorized the volunteers to rent a truck to move the equipment if necessary.

John C. said this reminded him about how the club acquired the refractor 40 years ago. It had been exposed to the elements and was in poor condition. No one wanted it, but he collected it and stored it in his garage. The scope was restored and is now a treasured instrument.

Michael W. will prepare an email to the membership about the results of the meeting.

Jeff adjourned the meeting.

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