Sep 112003
Authors: James Baetke

Star light. Star bright.

Observatory Village is one of Fort Collins newest home developments and the community it encompasses is out of this world.

Village Homes is the mastermind behind the unique dwelling project that is speculated as one-of-a-kind. The 112-acre site will be home to 540 homes and condominiums and will rest on streets like Galileo Drive and Quasar Way.

The main focal point of the community is the clubhouse that is home to Stargazer Observatory, a $35,000 neighborhood centerpiece. Built on the second floor of the clubhouse and adjacent to a large swimming pool and barbecue area, the observatory is home to a 14-inch Celestron telescope on a paramount disc mount.

“I think (the development) is very unique. I’ve been developing for a long time and haven’t done it before or seen it before,” said Peter Benson, Village Homes division president of Northern Colorado.

Building homes for over 17 years, Village Homes is the largest private homebuilder in Colorado and was awarded by Builder Magazine as America’s Best Builder in 2002.

The new housing development is located just east of the new Fossil Ridge High School, 5400 Ziegler Dr. that is still under construction. Observatory Village offers four different home types and 22 floor plans. The average cost for a home is about $250,000 while a condominium runs about $185,000.

Stargazer Observatory is a shared unit between Village Homes and Front Range Community College, 4616 S. Shields St. The building itself was built by the Village Homes while FRCC has leased the right to the telescope, dome and multi-purpose room.

An astronomy class from FRCC uses the multi-purpose room and uses the technology there as an imperative tool to the course. The telescope is completely controlled by a computer that has the ability to look into the sky and project the celestial images onto a projection screen.

“My program is actually bigger this semester since I’ve been at Front Range,” said Mike Smith, lead instructor for the physical sciences department at FRCC and main caretaker of the telescope.

The entryway to the clubhouse is graced with wall mountings educating visitors on certain aspects of space. Quotes from Albert Einstein and Star Trek’s Captain Kirk also can be spotted in the clubhouse.

“We didn’t want to just do a observatory that was just bland and just utilitarian, we wanted to have some education to it,” Benson said.

The use of the observatory is a complete turnaround from what Smith and his students were accustomed to, Smith said. Before the new facility was built, Smith’s department could not even use the rooftop of its school to look into the sky, but instead it was forced to use the parking lot as its staging ground for labs.

The star Arcturus was the very first star seen by the telescope and was known as the first light of the observatory, Smith said.

The telescope itself is self-supporting. The support beams channel from the second-floor observatory through the ceiling and into the opening entrance of the clubhouse. The beams are encased in their own cement blocking that reaches 20 feet below ground.

“It’s important the telescope be separate from the building structure because little vibration from walking or talking would distort the image,” Benson said.

Not only do residents get a state of the art observatory in their back yard but they also have two small parks and a larger fountain park located on the premises. Here, children have the opportunity to imagine themselves as space crusaders in a unique space playground or they can explore a massive play fountain where a large solar system structure is placed as art.

Jodi Huddlston of the CSU astronomy department said there is a similar observatory on campus, but it is not as technologically advanced. The telescope is available for public viewing, she said, on Tuesday evening between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., weather permitting.

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