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story.lead_photo.caption Colt Longnecker (left) and Clint Branham with Supporting STEM & Space rig a section of telescope with lifting straps Saturday, July 29, 2017, as volunteers unload the giant telescope for temporary storage at 8th Street Market in Bentonville. Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Penn. donated the 106-year-old telescope to Supporting STEM & Space, inc., a Northwest Arkansas nonprofit, in April on the stipulation that the nonprofit would pay for transport. The nonprofit plans to restore the 36 foot long, 24 inch diameter refractor telescope and make it the centerpiece of a future science education center with a planetarium and observatory. - Photo by Ben Goff

Leaders of a group of Northwest Arkansas science enthusiasts said they're negotiating to buy land along the Interstate 49 corridor to build a center.

Katherine Auld, chairwoman of the board of NWA Space, called the site "fabulous," but declined to give specifics on the location.

NWA Space Fundraiser

What: Scoping Out the Moon

When: 6-8 p.m., Feb. 28

Where: Ramo d’Olivio, 217 S. Main St., Bentonville

Why: To raise money for a proposed science center

Source: Staff report

"All the details haven't been finalized, so I can't say anything on it yet," she said.

The property deal involves a partnership allowing NWA Space to save most of its money for construction. It's possible the group will break ground as soon as next year, Auld said.

Auld and Clint Branham, board vice chairman, said they think a announcement could come within the next month.

Although an actual science center won't materialize for a while, Branham said he'd like to put down a temporary gravel parking lot and start hosting star-gazing parties on the site once it's secured.

NWA Space officials envision a science center of about 40,000 square feet with a 150-seat planetarium, permanent science exhibits, a robotics lab, exhibits emphasizing current events in science, a gift shop and classrooms schools may use on field trips, according to the group's website.

Having a location for the science center will help NWA Space attract big donations for the project, Branham said.

"The first thing everyone asks is, 'Where is it going to go?'" he said.

The building also would serve as home of a 36-foot-long, century-old refracting telescope NWA Space received last year from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. It was built by the John Brashear Co. in 1911 and is tied with another device as the sixth-largest refracting telescope in the United States.

The telescope is being stored near the Eighth Street Market in Bentonville until its permanent home is ready, Auld said.

NWA Space is holding a fundraiser called Scoping Out the Moon from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 28 at Ramo d'Olivio wine bar in downtown Bentonville. Proceeds will go toward building the science center. Dick Trammel, a Rogers resident and chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, will serve as celebrity bartender, Auld said.

The fully refurbished finder scope from the Brashear telescope will be available at the event for people to use to look at the moon, which will be nearly full that night. There also will be at least one other telescope available.

"Quite a few members of the NWA Space board will be in there talking about our vision and where we hope to be going over the next couple of years, and what we plan to accomplish," she said.

There will be a jar for collection of donations. NWA Space also can take credit card donations through PayPal, Auld said.

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The 4½-foot-long finder scope already has been used at star-gazing parties, Branham said.

"We stripped the paint off, cleaned the lens, got it repainted," Branham said. "It's 107 years old and it works great."

Branham and fellow board member Kent Marts worked on getting the finder scope restored. They're still working on the rest of the telescope, testing methods of removing the paint and preparing it to be cleaned. They've probably spent about 200 hours combined so far on the project, Branham said.

Joyce Dooley, a science and social studies teacher at Ardis Ann Middle School in Bentonville, said the area needs a science center. It would give science teachers a great place to gather, collaborate and learn new things, she said.

"It just would foster interest and curiosity in the teachers, which would translate to increased learning for the students in the classroom," Dooley said.

She compared her excitement for the science center to how she felt about the Scott Family Amazeum's opening in Bentonville in 2015.

"Any opportunity to have more science available to us on any kind of level is very exciting," she said.

Jacqui Lovejoy, a science instructional specialist in the Bentonville School District, said a science center would provide avenues of learning that a regular classroom can't.

"I think this is an incredible opportunity for everybody in this region, not just for our students, but for college students, our parents, just the community as a whole," Lovejoy said.

NW News on 02/17/2018

Print Headline: Northwest Arkansas group pursuing site for science center

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