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  • Writer's pictureArizona Contractor & Community

International Dark Sky Discovery Center Breaks Ground in Fountain Hills

New observatory and educational facility marks beginning of construction in sync with solar eclipse, celebrating Dark Sky Community status and highlighting importance of maintaining low light pollution.

The International Dark Sky Discovery Center (IDSDC) broke ground on its new observatory in Fountain Hills, in sync with the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. The new observatory, located at 13001 N. La Montana Drive, was designed by SWABACK Architects + Planners and is being built by McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

The $25 million, 23,000-square-foot facility will encompass a 27.5-inch PlaneWave telescope, housed within its 20.5-foot domed observatory, along with a state-of-the-art, 65-seat planetarium. The center will also include a multipurpose auditorium with capacity for 150 guests, and a “Night Sky Experience” exhibit space equipped with interactive educational and historical components.


“What better way to usher in the construction of the International Dark Sky Discovery Center than at such a rare celestial event under the wide-open skies of Fountain Hills. The next such eclipse is another 20 years away,” said IDSDC Board President Joe Bill. “My hope is by that time the IDSDC will be an Arizona icon known around the world as a place that enables sky watchers of all ages to learn more about the observable universe.”


Located in Fountain Hills, Arizona, the IDSDC is positioned in a unique landscape as one of only two International Dark Sky Communities near a metropolitan area, while still maintaining low light pollution and ideal conditions for an observatory. Fountain Hills was recognized as the 17th International Dark Sky Community in the world upon designation in January 2018.


The center’s primary intent is to highlight the importance of a dark sky and the potentially harmful effects of light pollution. In addition to astronomy, the center will also educate visitors on how light pollution affects humans, plants, animals, and other scientific processes.


The IDSDC will offer activities, educational opportunities, and events for all ages, primarily serving the K-12 communities in Arizona. With the first research-grade telescope in Greater Phoenix, the IDSDC will allow Valley residents to view parts of the sky that have become hidden due to growing light pollution.


“We feel fortunate to help bring such a unique experience to life for Arizona residents and the city of Fountain Hills,” said McCarthy project director Justin Adams. “We support the IDSDC’s mission of furthering research, education, and dark sky preservation in one of the few Dark Sky communities in the country.”


SWABACK has a rewarding history with Fountain Hills, spanning over 30 years.  Notable contributions include design of master planned developments, Downtown Visioning, and multiple custom homes.  Jon Bernhard, design architect and Partner-in-charge with SWABACK said “SWABACK provides design services for exciting projects around the world.  As a 34-year resident of Fountain Hills, I have a vested interest in this extraordinary facility.  The Discovery Center provides an exciting and unique recreational and educational amenity in the community for residents and visitors.  I look forward to sharing the range of activities and functions with family and friends.”


Funding for the Discovery Center has come through the efforts of the IDSDC Board, which is in the process of seeking an additional $8 million for signature naming rights of the entire center, as well as $2 million for rights to specific elements of the center such as the observatory, theater, and the Night Sky Experience exhibit hall.


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