Yerkes Observatory closed in October 2018 and in November 2019 an announcement was made by Yerkes Future Foundation about an agreement in principle with the University of Chicago for transfer of ownership of the observatory and related property. On Feb. 25, representatives from the foundation and university are expected at a Village of Williams Bay Plan Commission meeting. The 6:30 p.m. meeting will be held at Williams Bay High School. (Brigham Young University photo)

Though few details are known at this time, a public meeting later this month is expected to include an update on future plans for Yerkes Observatory.

The meeting, which will be held at Williams Bay High School on Tuesday, Feb. 25, is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. It’s been moved to the high school to accommodate an expected large crowd due to the interest in Yerkes.

Williams Bay Village President Bill Duncan said representatives from both the University of Chicago and the Yerkes Future Foundation will give presentations during a meeting of the village plan commission that night, according to a Journal Times article.

The observatory closed in October 2018. It had been established by the University in 1897 and featured groundbreaking work by scientists such as George Ellery Hale, Edwin Hubble and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

The facility was the home of the University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics from the time it opened until it began relocating to Hyde Park in the 1960s.

In recent decades, the University’s research in observational astronomy has shifted to using facilities located all over the globe and in space.

“Unfortunately, operating Yerkes no longer makes sense for the University from a programmatic or cost standpoint. Drawing to a close our operations there is the first step in a collaborative process to determine the ultimate disposition of the buildings and property,” said David Fithian, executive vice president of the University.

At that time, according to Fithian, there were “no specific plans nor have we approached any potential buyers.”

Promising news

In November 2019, Yerkes Future Foundation made an announcement that supporters of Yerkes Observatory had been waiting a long time to hear – that of an agreement in principle between the Foundation and the University for transfer of ownership of the observatory and related property.

The announcement stated that over the next several months, both organizations would be working closely on all aspects of the proposed transfer, according to the announcement with additional information being made available as appropriate.

The Foundation’s objectives include restoration and refurbishing of the telescopes and building, reopening the space for visitors and establishing educational, research, seminars and various additional opportunities for students, astronomers, astrophysicists and others.

Students and faculty in the University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics have continued to do educational and research work at Yerkes Observatory in the past year, the announcement states.

The transfer to YFF will mark the conclusion of the University’s historic affiliation with Yerkes, allowing the University to make further investments in the future of the field, including projects such as the Giant Magellan Telescope.

“Both the University and (Foundation) would like to express their appreciation for the support shown by the Yerkes family, the Village of Williams Bay and many educators and scientists,” the announcement stated.

Dan Koehler, who was the director of tours and special programs at Yerkes, thanked those involved for their efforts in a post on Facebook.

“Here it is – the announcement we’ve been praying for since March 2018. Thank you to the members of the Yerkes Future Foundation for their extraordinary efforts to save Yerkes for future generations,” Koehler said.

According to the Journal Times, Duncan said the village has been in communication with both the university and the foundation to plan the Feb. 25 meeting. He said any plans regarding the future of Yerkes will be reviewed by both the plan commission and the village board.


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