Kaiti Hill observatory 'unsafe'

MEMBERS of Gisborne Astronomical Society are in shock after news that engineers have declared the Kaiti Hill observatory “unsafe for use” and it might have to be demolished.

MEMBERS of Gisborne Astronomical Society are in shock after news that engineers have declared the Kaiti Hill observatory “unsafe for use” and it might have to be demolished.

Former Gisborne museum director Professor Wayne Orchiston says New Zealand can boast a number of international-level astrophotographers, one of the most accomplished being Gisborne’s own John Drummond, pictured on Kaiti Hill in front of the observatory, which is closed because it needs earthquake strengthening. Professor Orchiston’s lecture in Gisborne next week will include the achievements of pioneer astrophotographers such as John Grigg. Picture by Paul Rickard

SOCIETY president John Drummond was given the news by Gisborne District Council chief executive Judy Campbell last week.

“It has come as a huge shock to us,” Mr Drummond said.
“Judy explained that GDC had just done an engineering report on the structural integrity of the Cook Observatory and found it to be an extreme earthquake risk.

“Apparently it has a maximum 20 percent soundness grading and is unsafe for use. The bottom line is we’re out of the observatory immediately,” Mr Drummond said.

He has let GAS members know the news.

“Judy stated that this could perhaps be a blessing in disguise, with the 250 years celebrations coming up, and the role the observatory has played in Gisborne over the years.

“The fact that it is the world’s most eastern observatory, that it was used as an observation post during World War 2, it might receive grant funding to be rebuilt,” Mr Drummond said.

“Coupled with the whole Titirangi focus lately, this could prove beneficial in the long term for Gisborne Astronomical Society.”

Mrs Campbell told Mr Drummond the council would aim to help the society find a suitable alternative venue for future meetings.

“That has yet to be determined and I hope to have a meeting with Mrs Campbell and other council staff in the next few days to discuss it,” he said.

Mr Drummond said the astronomical society was yet to see the engineers’ report, so it was early days yet.

“But as far as I know at this stage the building might have to come down and that will leave us literally out in the cold.

“It’s good that the council is going to find a place for us to meet for our meetings, which have been held at the observatory. But that doesn’t help us with our astronomical observations.”

Astro-tourism plans

Mr Drummond said he had plans to develop an astro-tourism business on his property at Patutahi.

“My intention is to create a place for tourists to come and carry out astronomical obeservations at the most easterly place in the world.

“But that development won’t happen for quite a few months.

“It will not become the new GAS base because ideally we want a new observatory up on Titirangi,” he said.

The Kaiti Hill observatory was built in 1971 and was opened in October that year by the then Mayor Sir Harry Barker.

“This is a sad turn of events for GAS but in the light of the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes, is understandable,” Mr Drummond said.

“Personal safety always comes first.

“It is a shame, though, in the light of all the positives lately with the clearing of the trees on Kaiti Hill and a reclaimed horizon.

“But we are only users of the building and not the owners.

“So we’ll have to take it on the chin and hope that in the long term we end up with an even nicer and safer observatory, with a dome that rotates a lot more freely.”

SOCIETY president John Drummond was given the news by Gisborne District Council chief executive Judy Campbell last week.

“It has come as a huge shock to us,” Mr Drummond said.
“Judy explained that GDC had just done an engineering report on the structural integrity of the Cook Observatory and found it to be an extreme earthquake risk.

“Apparently it has a maximum 20 percent soundness grading and is unsafe for use. The bottom line is we’re out of the observatory immediately,” Mr Drummond said.

He has let GAS members know the news.

“Judy stated that this could perhaps be a blessing in disguise, with the 250 years celebrations coming up, and the role the observatory has played in Gisborne over the years.

“The fact that it is the world’s most eastern observatory, that it was used as an observation post during World War 2, it might receive grant funding to be rebuilt,” Mr Drummond said.

“Coupled with the whole Titirangi focus lately, this could prove beneficial in the long term for Gisborne Astronomical Society.”

Mrs Campbell told Mr Drummond the council would aim to help the society find a suitable alternative venue for future meetings.

“That has yet to be determined and I hope to have a meeting with Mrs Campbell and other council staff in the next few days to discuss it,” he said.

Mr Drummond said the astronomical society was yet to see the engineers’ report, so it was early days yet.

“But as far as I know at this stage the building might have to come down and that will leave us literally out in the cold.

“It’s good that the council is going to find a place for us to meet for our meetings, which have been held at the observatory. But that doesn’t help us with our astronomical observations.”

Astro-tourism plans

Mr Drummond said he had plans to develop an astro-tourism business on his property at Patutahi.

“My intention is to create a place for tourists to come and carry out astronomical obeservations at the most easterly place in the world.

“But that development won’t happen for quite a few months.

“It will not become the new GAS base because ideally we want a new observatory up on Titirangi,” he said.

The Kaiti Hill observatory was built in 1971 and was opened in October that year by the then Mayor Sir Harry Barker.

“This is a sad turn of events for GAS but in the light of the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes, is understandable,” Mr Drummond said.

“Personal safety always comes first.

“It is a shame, though, in the light of all the positives lately with the clearing of the trees on Kaiti Hill and a reclaimed horizon.

“But we are only users of the building and not the owners.

“So we’ll have to take it on the chin and hope that in the long term we end up with an even nicer and safer observatory, with a dome that rotates a lot more freely.”

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