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Observatory in a black hole

Observatory in a black hole

It was Morrissey's Radio-Canada colleagues who first broke the news on Tuesday. The Ségep de Trois-Rivières Center has confirmed that it must abandon the astronomical observatory project that was upgraded to a scientific center due to lack of funding.

Let us remember that the project saw the light in the context of the closure of the Sigip Observatory in Champlain, which had become dilapidated and no longer met the needs of the institution. Instead of simply closing its doors and turning the page on decades of scientific history, the educational institution has been working on a project to establish a new observatory on land located at the entrance to the Patiscan River Park.

The project in question, initially estimated at $11.3 million, includes a pavilion that includes an observatory equipped with a state-of-the-art scientific telescope and multifunctional buildings that would have been used for interpretation or teaching activities. We wanted to develop the land surrounding the observatory to accommodate amateur astronomers and encourage the establishment of interdisciplinary experimental activities adapted to young clients. As scientific equipment, the place had to first meet the needs of college or university students.

This new design of the observatory caused its downfall. The high costs – and we are now talking about 15 million – make financial arrangements more difficult. And on the government side, we don't seem to be able to include it at the federal level in the program funds available for financial assistance.

But how on earth are we unable to finance a project that combines educational, scientific and tourism characteristics? How can we, as a society, refuse financial support for a project that would contribute to the training of future researchers and which, at the same time, could awaken children to scientific culture?

An observation post like the one planned for Batiscan River Park would have helped stir up emotions. An elementary school student who took this course might have wanted to become David St. Jacques, Carl Chastenay, or Farah Alipay.

However, there was a lot of enthusiasm about the science center project before the pandemic. Or rather before the change in administration at Cégep de Trois-Rivières. Because we no longer feel at all willing to have the Trois-Rivières Foundation manage this issue.

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The current administration should be reminded that the project will first replace dilapidated facilities of which Cégep has benefited greatly – for the astronomy component of its physics program – and of which it has long been proud.

If it is true that the component of tourism or scientific activities goes beyond the usual framework of responsibilities of the post-secondary institution, we can find a model of co-management. There are elected officials who are passionate and willing to work on this. Sure enough, the partners have agreed to join the adventure.

But there, we no longer even care to dream of this different model. Instead of turning our heads toward the stars, we put our heads in the sand, take the project itself and bury it properly.

If it had come to fruition, the science center project could have been an exceptional educational and tourism development tool. Attractions focusing on science tourism are rare in the region. For example, with the Energy City in Shawinigan, the Biodiversity Center in Bécancour and the Borealis in Trois-Rivières, a science center dedicated to astronomical observation and interpretation could have become an interesting complement in the regional tourism offer. Initial benefits were estimated at $3.2 million.

Is there any hope left somewhere? At the MRC des Chenaux, where we have reserved a million-dollar envelope to support the project, we say we are disappointed by the turn of events. But since we have set the end date for this financial assistance and it has passed since last month, the money will be allocated to other needs. If the project is revived, we can hope that the MRC will be able to renew its commitment.

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And regionalism in all this? Sonia LeBel has come a long way in her commitment to the project. During the 2022 election campaign, it committed to supporting the Cégep de Trois-Rivières with the aim of building a science center in the Parc de la rivière Batiscan.

A little leap back. September 2022. Sonia Lebel, candidate for a second term in Parliament for the Champlain region, declares: “I have worked in close collaboration with the Cégep de Trois-Rivières for several months to realize this project, which in my opinion will constitute a product of great attraction for tourism in area. In addition to attracting more families to the Batiscan River Park and the Marine Research Center in Chino, we will promote natural sciences in order to arouse the curiosity of young people and, who knows, maybe lead them to choose a career in this field that really needs them. It is a promising and winning project On many levels. I plan to make it a priority if the citizens of Champlain trust me for a second term.

The citizens of Champlain trusted him. Unfortunately, interest in CEGEP has declined slightly. But if she is still convinced that this could constitute “an attractive product for tourism in the region” and that it remains “a promising and winning project on many levels”, the MP – who is also Chairman of the Treasury Board – could take the Pilgrim's crew, pick up the pieces and return Everyone at the same table.

His federal counterpart as a local MP, François-Philippe Champagne, will have to be more willing to open the doors that we seem to want to close when we come up with unusual projects.

Projects like this are rare in mainly rural settings. It is not impossible to believe that if this project had been led by a large organization in Toronto or Montreal, the funding would have already been provided and the two governments would have put their participation on the table without complaint.

Let us imagine for a moment the event that could have occurred at this location last Monday to observe the eclipse. Let's imagine the school tours that could be given to such facilities. Let's imagine an August evening to observe the Perseids. Let's imagine interactive exhibits that could be deployed to meet the needs of curious tourist customers.

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With a little imagination, we can dream up a unique place, with a three-pronged mission, and driven by a group of partners who truly believe in it. The leader needs to stand up to shake things up a bit with the new CEO of Cégep and relaunch the project.

This science center with an observatory must not die from being just a shooting star.