LOUISBURG — Powell Observatory’s curators still hope to relocate the facility by 2021. But it won’t be at Circle Grove.
Those plans were shelved recently when Cedar Cove Feline Conservation and Education Center officials approached the Astronomical Society of Kansas City (ASKC) about relocating the observatory to a piece of Cedar Cove’s newly acquired property.
ASKC, which has owned and operated Powell Observatory at Louisburg’s Lewis-Young Park for the past 35 years, had been contemplating a move to Circle Grove for more than two years.
“We knew Powell Observatory wanted to relocate, but we didn’t have the land to accommodate them,” said Steve Klein, president of Cedar Cove’s board of directors and also director of facilities.
The George Criswell family donated 11 acres of land to Cedar Cove, which is located at 3783 Kansas Highway 68, in early 1997, according to the center’s website. After successful fundraising efforts, Cedar Cove recently purchased another 126 acres of land from George Criswell, who is also on the Cedar Cove board, Klein said.
The ASKC board was receptive to a move to Cedar Cove.
“We have been talking about moving to Circle Grove for the last couple of years, but we kind of received a surprise offer from Cedar Cove to move out there,” said Rick Henderson, ASKC president. “We decided to investigate the offer, and I hate to use a cliché but it was an offer that was too good to refuse.”
Henderson said ASKC would have its own space to build a new Powell Observatory complex on a large tract of land.
“We’re talking about perhaps up to 20 acres, and at Circle Grove we were going to have a little over an acre,” Henderson said.
Henderson said the Circle Grove site at 29020 Mission Belleview Road also had some physical limitations that had factored into the decision.
A lease agreement with Cedar Cove also was more favorable, Henderson said. The Kansas State Board of Education prohibits school districts from entering into leases that are longer than 10 years.
At the June 10 Louisburg school board meeting, Superintendent Brian Biermann read a passage from a letter he had received that day from ASKC, notifying the school district of its decision.
“The maximum lease term is 10 years, and that was, I think, just difficult for some of their board members. If for some reason we would leave this building, I’m sure they would be a little concerned about that, and I think they’re going to have their own spot (at Cedar Cove),” Biermann said. “(ASKC) was very complementary … ‘You and the school board have been excellent people to work with and none of us have any complaints about our agreement, with one exception.’”
In a follow-up interview, Biermann said the school district would have worked with ASKC to keep renewing the lease on a regular basis in order to prevent it from ever reaching that 10-year limit.
In a phone interview, Henderson emphasized that Biermann and the school board had been great to work with and this decision was no fault of the district.
Henderson said another advantage of moving to Cedar Cove is that both organizations are nonprofits and would be able to work on some cross-promotions touting not only feline conservation but also the environment and astrology.
Klein said his board is excited about what the observatory would bring to Cedar Cove.
“This allows us to go beyond the feline sanctuary and have a bigger conversation of a complete view of the earth in its entirety,” Klein said.
The additional land will provide an opportunity in the future to add nature trails, create outdoor classrooms, a planetarium, and possibly a living rainforest.
“We want to create an amazing experience that will get people to put down their phones and forget about what the Kardashians are doing for a while and develop an awareness for what’s around them and above them.”
An access road would be added to get people to the proposed observatory complex site, which is a half mile east of Mission Belleview Road, Klein said.
Klein said the proposal would still have to be approved by the county. He expressed confidence the proposed complex would meet county requirements.
Henderson said the new observatory complex likely will cost more than $1.5 million to construct.
“We’re probably two years off, but we hope to open in 2021,” Henderson said. “We like Louisburg and we were committed to staying in the community, and I’m happy to say that’s what we are going to do.”