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New observatory to recognize the old

March 28, 2001

Nick Marinello

The Cunningham Observatory may be gone but, say Tulane administrators, not forgotten. While the observatory was demolished last month to make way for the expansion of the A. B. Freeman School of Business, key parts of the structure were saved to be incorporated into a new observatory that will be built atop Jones Hall this summer.

"We are planning to utilize some of the parts that we salvaged from the building to continue the recognition of Thomas Cunningham," said Tony Lorino, senior vice president of operations and chief financial officer.

Cunningham was the shipping magnate for whom the observatory was named. According to Henry Fry, director of campus planning, among the items saved were the dedication plaque, the telescope, the front door and transom, and a sundial that was attached to the building.

"We considered saving the dome, but it was infeasible to do so," said Fry. A 13-meter fiberglass or aluminum dome will be fabricated for the new observatory, he said. The telescope, which dates from 1893 and was the instrument of choice for noted Harvard astronomer William Henry Pickering during the 1920s and '30s, is currently being stored at the F. Edward Hebert Research Center in Belle Chasse, said Lorino.

"I have been contacted by four organizations that have expressed interest in the telescope," he added. Lorino said the Kenner Observatory in Rivertown is interested in displaying the telescope in its lobby. "It would have high visibility there," said Lorino, "and they propose to recognize Pickering and Cunningham in the exhibit."

Fry said planning for the new observatory began in 1999, when it was determined that the business school's expansion would require the space occupied by the Cunningham Observatory. The rooftop of Jones Hall was chosen as a location because of the availability of nearby classroom space within the building and easy accessibility for the physically impaired, said Fry.

The new facility will be equipped with a state-of-the-art, 16-inch computer-controlled telescope, said Dan Purrington, professor of physics. Purrington, who teaches Descriptive Astronomy and Observational Astronomy to 150 students each year, said the new location will offer some benefits to the study of the heavens, primarily through gaining a better horizon.

"For the last 15 years the business school has loomed over our southern horizon, throwing off lots of ambient light," he said. Fry said he expects the new observatory to be ready for the fall semester. Construction for the business school's expansion is slated to begin June 1.

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