If the stars align properly, Georgetown’s lightly used Heyden Observatory may be getting a makeover.

Completed in 1843, the observatory is the third-oldest university observatory in the country and was designated a national historic landmark in 1973. However, the building is only currently used to house a few biology department offices and several telescopes.

In an effort to preserve the observatory, the Georgetown University Astronomical Society has begun this year to move to safeguard the future of the landmark by restoring it to its original splendor.

GUAS President Robyn Liska (SFS ’08) said the club is lobbying to not only restore and improve the observatory’s condition, but also to increase its role in serving students.

“In the past couple of years, they did some repairs, they painted the dome, they did some restorations to the exterior,” she said. “We want to turn it into something that makes it more accessible to the broader Georgetown community.”

According to Liska, the club has been urging the university to at some future point turn the observatory into a museum.

“We think a museum would be most compatible and most conducive to making it accessible for as many people as possible, but we want to make sure that the astronomy club maintains the ability to use the dome for astronomy purposes,” she said.

The first step would be to conduct an audit and then renovate the building completely, the cost of which could range from $15,000 to $75,000, Liska said.

“[Our] club’s plan is to move ahead and pay for a firm to do a historical audit for the building,” Liska said. “We’re going to try and work with the university architect to initiate a process to get one of those.”

She stressed that financing the renovations would also be in the university’s best interest.

“It [the observatory] is nationally well-known among the astronomy community. It’s an asset for the university,” she said.

Ali Whitmer, an assistant College dean who has been discussing the project with GUAS, said she thinks the club and the university should work together to fund the project.

“We recognize the rich history of science at the observatory and its status as a historical building and observatory,” she said. “I believe the campus has an interest in celebrating that history through the restoration of the building, and we welcome the efforts of GUAS to move this effort forward.”

Funding is not the only obstacle to creating a museum, as the biology department offices would need to be relocated.

“It certainly is not going to be easy to find another location given how tight space is on campus,” Liska said.

Karen Frank, vice president of facilities and student housing, said that there is no room to expand the observatory.

“It’s being used to its fullest capacity. There is no empty space,” she said.

The club plans to consult an auditor from the Smithsonian Institution to look at the observatory’s equipment as a way to evaluate how it could be incorporated into a museum, Liska said.

“It’s flexible to what type of museum it would be,” Liska said. “It would be nice if we could have a hands-on astronomy part so people could learn about astronomy and do it at the same time.

Georgetown had a large astronomy department until 1971, at which time it was the largest in the country, according to the GUAS website.

GUAS hopes to at least work with the university to further the legacy that the building has already started, Liska added.

Frank said the university has worked to maintain the observatory, despite limited resources.

“I think that it is preserved,” she said. “We do maintenance and audit as needed. It is historic, so maintenance is always a challenge. Our dreams and desires are always greater than the resources that we have.”

– Hoya Staff Writer Amelia Salutz contributed to this report.

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