Last year, there was hope that Yerkes Observatory would open up to the public in the fall. But like many things, that grand opening was delayed, in part because of supply chain issues making it harder to get some of the needed construction done and also because of how massive the undertaking is.
But even though Yerkes is not open for public tours yet, that doesn’t mean they haven’t been very busy.
As Dennis Kois, the Yerkes Future Foundation Executive Director, explained, this restoration is not a one-time renovation, it’s a work in progress.
“There is not going to be a date when ta da we are done, doors open, we are ready to roll. It’s going to be an ongoing conservation and restoration project and then a ramping up of programs over several summers and years,” said Kois, who was started as the director in March.
At this point the new goal is to have the facility open for public tours by summer 2022, Kois said. When Yerkes does open, they have a new director of external affairs and programs ready to provide those tours—Walt Chadick.
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Chadick is a transplant from Chicago, who moved to the Lake Geneva area after marrying his wife, Kate (maiden name Six), whose family is from Fontana and own the Lake Geneva Kilwin’s.
In fact Chadick and his wife even got married in Yerkes in 2017 before the idea of working at Yerkes was an option. But it wasn’t just his Lake Geneva connection that got him to the job, he has years of tour guide experience working for Chicago Trolley and Tour and event planning experience, with involvement in major events including the Cubs parade after they won the World Series and President Barack Obama’s election night. His mom was also a tour guide and he said, “Tour guiding is in my blood.” And, he is also booking weddings now, too, helping give others the experience he was able to have on his wedding day.
Here is a snapshot of just several of the projects they have under taken over the last year.
Yerkes installed 83 solar panels on the roof of Yerkes, which will generate power to run the Observatory. That was made possible with donations from Generac. Those solar panels will help run the new EV charging stations that were installed in the brand-new parking lot next to the observatory. Kois is also hoping in the future to install a Tesla Supercharging station.
This summer Yerkes removed numerous dead or diseased trees and planted many dozens more as well as thousands of deer resistant daffodil bulbs thanks to the help of volunteers. An addition, a new welcome garden has been seeded and will appear next spring along Geneva Street and a six acre pollinator prairie has been created on the property, all with the help of partners from Midwest Prairies and Jensen Ecology.
While work on the outside of the building has wound down for the winter, that means work inside is spooling up. This winter we will be building all-new ADA compliant restrooms and family restrooms in the Observatory designed by Abacus Architects of Milwaukee. Yerkes will also be restoring the East end of the first floor.
Conrad Schmitt Conservation Studio in Milwaukee had stone restorers onsite through the fall, hand-restoring several thousand square feet of Carrara marble that has lined the observatory’s wall since it was built in 1897. That is just one piece of the massive restoration project.
Another project is renovating the Morgan House, a circa-1896 home on the property, which will be used by visiting scientists, authors, artists, composers and others invited to partner with Yerkes. The run-down garage next to the house is also going to be renovated into studio space for use by visiting artists and writers.
Yerkes also has a national search going on now to hire a new director of science to run the astronomy program for the Future Foundation, developing programs and working with universities on partnerships.
Kois explained, “It’s a really complex project. To do it once and well takes a lot of expertise and contractors. A lot of planning and a lot of resources.”
Photos: Crews descend on Yerkes Observatory to begin restoration
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In photos: 100 years ago Einstein visited Yerkes Observatory and more Yerkes photos
Williams Bay history – 23
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E.E. Barnard Yerkes figure
Watch now: A look inside Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay