- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A southern Kansas stargazing landmark is expected to reopen on Labor Day weekend after its closure prompted a public outcry.

Sedgwick County commissioners will vote Wednesday on whether to lease the Lake Afton Public Observatory to an enthusiast club called the Kansas Astronomical Observers, The Wichita Eagle (http://bit.ly/29fwHYF) reported.

Plans call for a technological upgrade for the observatory, located west of Wichita. The observatory also will boast a new logo, with social media and online presence as well as interactive screens and tablets in the observatory.

After 35 years of showing people the stars, the observatory closed in August because Wichita State University could no longer afford the annual costs when it switched from being a moneymaker to an expense of roughly $50,000 to $70,000 per year. Annual attendance had dropped to about 4,000 people - half of what it was when it opened in 1981.

The Kansas Astronomical Observers led the reopening effort, and a relatively new civic hacking group called Open Wichita volunteered time and resources to help the observatory technologically. The Kansas Astronomical Observers said Wichita State donated the observatory equipment and main telescope to the nonprofit.

Fred Gassert, president of the Kansas Astronomical Observers, said he plans to use the observatory’s nonprofit status to collect corporate sponsorships and individual donations to pay for utility and maintenance costs not covered by admission.

He said the observatory will be entirely volunteer-run and will keep admission prices the same or less than before closing - $8 for adults and between $4 and $6 for children.

Gassert said the observatory would have operating hours similar to what it previously had - Friday and Saturday evenings with varied seasonal times depending on sunset. It will also be open for school or community group visits.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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