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On Sept. 29, Lowell Observatory broke ground on what will be the 4,300-square-foot Giovale Open Deck Observatory (GODO).

The $3 million project consists of an elevated deck or plaza with a roll-off building that will retract nightly and house a suite of six telescopes. The telescopes, according to a general plan for the GODO, will be used both for direct observing through eyepieces as well as projection images and spectra onto monitors.

"With most public viewing facilities like this, the roof rolls off to expose telescopes, but with this setup, the entire building rolls back," said Lisa Actor, deputy director of development for Lowell Observatory.

The deck will be circular, fenced in by a series of silver plaques on which quotes about the night sky and space will be engraved. Vertical columns with circular cutouts marking where the sunrise, solstice and equinox occur will also surround the plaza. One wall will show the planets and galaxies up close.

According to Actor, the deck will have the capacity to hold several hundred visitors at once and will likely have about 4-6 Lowell educators and staff to assist and lead programs.

The deck will be open daily and nightly during Lowell Observatory hours.

"We’re expecting hundreds of guests per evening," Actor said, also stating that Lowell saw a an uptick in visitors this year with a total of 110,000 compared to the 98,000-99,000 average number of people visiting in the preceding years.

The GODO is named for John and Ginger Giovale, who made the initial donation for the project. 

In fact, the entire project is donor-funded. According to Actor, the GODO has received $2.4 million in donations so far. Individuals and trusts have given the funds for different portions of the project, including the western wall of the rolling roof ($10,000), the dark skies classroom exhibit ($7,500) and the waterworks access road ($50,000). 

“And we've received dozens of other smaller donations from longtime members of the observatory, too. It’s been very gratifying to see how the support has come in from so many people,” Actor said.

The deck is being built above the current Lowell parking lot, near the facility's Pluto Telescope and on the site where two large water tanks stood until recently. These were removed in order to make room for the deck, with a larger 250,000-gallon tank being constructed to replace them. The cost of the new tank has also been absorbed by donors, at a price tag of $100,000. 

The GODO marks the first phase of a long-term visitor program expansion plan at the observatory.

A series of changes are planned at Lowell over the years to come as the observatory looks to develop Mars Hill. Known as the Lowell Observatory strategic master plan (outlined by Ian McLennan Consultants, a firm based in Vancouver that specializes in astronomy centers) future efforts include building a 24,000-square-foot "Astronomy Discovery Center on Mars Hill. 

"Inside there will be an immersion theater that can be used for both 3-D and 2-D presentations with a wrap-around screen ... On the roof we’re gonna have a dark-sky planetarium," Actor said.

The new center will essentially replace the current 6,000-square-foot Steele Visitor Center as the main portion of Lowell. Steele will instead become a venue for classrooms and educational programs while the new building -- which will include a cafe and gift shop as well -- will become the primary visitor venue. It is tentatively set to open in 2022, although construction has not yet begun. 

"Our main campus is about 30 acres. We do not plan to acquire more land for these projects," Actor said. 

Local architecture firm JWA Architects is responsible for the design of the Giovale Open Deck Observatory with Time Whiteside as the lead architect for the project. 

According to Actor, construction of the deck is projected to be finished by the spring of 2019, depending on how the winter affects the building process. 

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