Stewart’s helps launch Sky Center in Tupper Lake

Adirondack Sky Center Vice President Seth McGowan stands Friday with concept drawings for the observatory’s AstroScience Center museum and planetarium at the site where it is planned to be built on Big Wolf Road. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — In the Adirondack Sky Center and Observatory’s quest to become a destination for the stars, it has gotten some help from a terrestrial company, Stewart’s Shops.

The Sky Center (formerly called the Adirondack Public Observatory) has been awarded a $125,000 grant by Stewart’s Shops and the Dake Family Foundation toward its $15 million AstroScience Center on Big Wolf Road. It plans to open the 18,000-square-foot museum and planetarium in five years as a hub for cosmic exploration in a town with some of the darkest skies on the East Coast.

“So far, the ‘launch’ phase has raised nearly $1 million in grants from New York State alone,” Sky Center board President Carol Levy said. “These partners know that the Sky Center must leverage private funding to match State support. Their investments indicate to us a strong belief in the importance of this project.”

Vice President Seth McGowan said this is the collection phase of the project, where the ASC gathers private donations to pay for its portion of several matching grants it has received from the state.

McGowan said the next phase is to commission architectural blueprints of the building, which can be very expensive. He said the actual construction may only take a year but that it will take a while to get everything prepared.

The museum will be the third building constructed on the Sky Center campus. The Roll-Off Roof Observatory was completed in 2013, the Learning Lean-to is planned to be completed this year, and a final building housing a 24-inch reflecting research telescope will be added after the completion of the Astro-Science Center. The largest telescope currently at the observatory is 14 inches.

The future museum is expected to feature a 100-person lecture hall, a creative space for kids and adults to build solar system models and robots, and a planetarium with inclined seating and a six-projector system. McGowan said board members have met with experienced planetarium builders for advice on the construction of the specialized theater.

“Stewart’s Shops have been serving the Adirondacks for more than 40 years, starting in Lake George and then opening our Tupper Lake shop in 1985,” Stewart’s Shops Foundation President Susan Dake said. “We are committed to supporting and enhancing all our shops’ communities. The Adirondack Sky Center will not only serve as an education center but also a destination for tourists and scientists who wish to expand their horizons literally and figuratively.”

Stewart’s has donated to the Sky Center before, McGowan said, paying for binoculars and funding other educational matters.

The observatory organization was founded in 2003 by astronomy enthusiast Gordy Duval, corrections officer Tim Moeller and former village municipal electric department Superintendent Marc Staves. Directors have said they hope the museum will complement the Wild Center natural history museum and expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) learning in the region.