The Calumet Astronomical Society operates the Thomas Conway Observatory, located just southeast of Lowell, Indiana. Like many good ideas, this one started small and just keeps growing. In 1998 and 1999, John Myers of the Bethlehem Steel Institute for Career Development held telescope making classes at its facility in Burns Harbor, Indiana. The Institute provides classes in useful and personal enrichment topics as a negotiated benefit of the United Steelworkers of America's labor contract with steel companies. For a number of years the Institute has had a program of constructing a building in their parking lot in Burns Harbor as a living laboratory for training in the construction crafts such as plumbing, electrical wiring, and steel framing construction. In early 2000, it was decided that due to the enthusiasm generated by a telescope building class, that the next building would be designed and built as an astronomical observatory. As with the previous two buildings that ICD had constructed, a donee for this building needed to be found. After contacting schools and parks throughout Porter County, Indiana Dunes State Park agreed to locate this observatory on the park property.
The Calumet Astronomical Society had conducted a number of public outreach events at Dunes State Park during the late 1990s. Wendy Smith, park naturalist, contacted the Society to see if we would be interested in operating an observatory at the park. An agreement was negotiated , with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources agreeing to pay the costs of moving the building once completed and providing the foundation and utility hookups. DNR also agreed to pay for half the cost of a 16” LX200 telescope and an elevating pier for handicap use.
Chris Brownewell worked with John Myers of ICD and with Scott Virtue of Chester Construction of Valparaiso to design the building. The building dimensions, 18’ x 24’ were set by the size of the construction foundation in the parking lot at ICD. In many respects it is a “supersize” version of the Calumet Astronomical Society's Roesel Observatory, with an observing deck area of 14’ x 14’. The requirements of the class training at ICD dictated that it would have a restroom. In the original design, the internal layout the building has three rooms, and is unique among astronomical observatories in being designed as full Americans with Disabilities Act compliant. An external ramp designed to go around the building ends in a half door on the exterior of the raised observing deck. It was intended in design to allow a very high traffic flow of visitors into and out of the observatory. This entire observatory was designed to be able to get a maximum number of visitors through the telescope. CONTINUED....