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Submission + - What to do with old observatories?

rmpotter writes: "Now that Bill Gates and Charles Symonyi are donating megabucks for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Project, it begs the question: what to do with the grand old telescopes that were built in the 1930's and earlier? While old observatories can't perform cutting edge research, they may still be suitable for specialized research (near-star spectroscopy, time-series observations) as well as for undergraduate teaching and public education. To complicate matters, however, facilities such as the U of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin and the U of Toronto's David Dunlap Observatory (Richmond Hill, Ontario) are sitting on tracts of prime real-estate and have prompted their host universities to try to sell them off for quick cash.

Public pressure forced the U of Chicago to rethink the sale of Yerkes, but the University of Toronto is determined to sell the David Dunlap Observatory to the highest bidder. Bids will be accepted until February 15 through an RFP process. The DDO sale has generated a firestorm of protest by stirring up area residents, the local naturalists group and amateur and professional astronomers. Collectively, they have written hundreds of letters, planned rallies and petitions, but so far U of T has refused to reconsider the sale.

For a public institution, U of T has been heavy-handed in conducting the sale. They never consulted with local residents or the astronomers who work at the facility and are even contesting the Town of Richmond Hill's attempt to designate the property as a heritage site. In December 2007, it came to light that U of T threatened to sue the Dunlap family in order to force them to agree to the sale of the land.

Essentially, the DDO has become a large urban park in the center of the town that grew up around it and area residents and astronomers would like to preserve both the telescope and the natural heritage of the land itself. The question is: should universities fund cutting-edge research by selling off large tracts of donated land to developers, thereby contributing to urban sprawl, increased traffic, noise, pollution and greenhouse gases?"

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