Richmond Astronomical Society

August 2014 Board Meeting Minutes

Nov 15th, 2014 | By | Category: Board Meetings

RAS Board Meeting August 18, 2014


President Jim Browder called the meeting to order at 7:01 pm.


Attendees (7):

  • Jim Browder, President
  • Jim Blowers, Treasurer
  • Chris McCann, Secretary
  • John Raymond, Observatory Director
  • Ken Wilson
  • Betty Wilson
  • Prashant Reddy


Guest (1):

  • Randy Tatum


Missing (4):

  • Dave Medici, Vice President
  • Bill Newman
  • Gary Cowardin
  • David Walton


Secretary’s report given by Chris McCann

  • May’s board meeting minutes were discussed and accepted with minor correction.

Treasurer’s report given by Jim Blowers

  • Balance Summary         (as of 5/19/2014):               (as of 8/18/2014):
  • General Fund:                       7335.07                               8611.63
  • Observatory Fund:                   197.93                                 187.45
  • TOTAL:                                 7533.00                             8799.08
  • Checking Account:               2434.60                             3696.57
  • Savings Account:                 2861.39                             2861.60
  • Certificate of Deposit:           2237.01                             2240.91
  • Pay Pal Acct:                               0.00                                    0.00
  • TOTAL:                                 7533.00                               8799.08


After a brief discussion, the treasurer’s report was accepted by the board.

There are 64 members who have paid dues.


Observatory Report –

  • Discussed grass cutting duties.
  • Clean up duties planned in November.
  • No damage to building, but Randy reports the front gate has a dent in it.


Library Report given by Jim Browder (for Virginia)

  • All is well at the Richmond Alarm Company.
  • Cabinets are almost full.
  • Question about having a possible book sale at a future meeting, or donate to other groups
  • A group is needed to evaluate which books can go, especially old books and textbooks


Education / Outreach Report :

(1) Good participation at recent skywatches

(2) Numerous upcoming star parties

  • Belmead
  • Science Museum of Virginia
  • Almost Heaven Star Party at Spruce Knob
  • Powhatan State Park – hazy; clear and pretty good the other time
  • VAAS 2014
  • ECVAR 2014
  • NOVAC Annual Star Gaze
  • Camp Phoenix Skywatch
  • Staunton River Star Party
  • Scotchtown Skywatch in Ashland
  • DelMarVa
  • East Coast Star Party

(3) Imaging workshop at Staunton River Star Party – John is planning on having an image workshop

(4) Additional upcoming outreach contact – John Raymond


Old Business

(1) Discussion of equipment inventory

  • Dave Walton is having significant health issues
  • John Raymond has been appointed to take over the inventory control
  • Need to inventory the observatory.

(2) Continued discussion of draft proposal for Belmead storage/observing facility

  • Due to the length of the handout, the handout and discussion points will be addressed in the minutes after the end of the agenda (after New Business). This will not be a quick decision, but will need several months to arrive at a conclusion. Consider the most efficient process to satisfy most of our concerns. Jim Browder did a great job creating the handout after much research and thought.


New Business

(1) Appointment of Board member nominating committee chairman – Dave Medici

(2) Fall Picnic Date?

  • Consider observing session and picnic on one of the following:
    October 18 , November 1, November 22
  • Based on the lunar phase and expected temperature, October 18 was selected.
  • Dave Medici and Bill Newman were selected to be picnic coordinators

(3) Brief discussion on security of the Ragland observatory.

  • It was decided to delay the decision about putting a camera on the observatory.       The present concern is about later when no one else is around on a nearly daily basis.
  • Is there an existing camera in the nearby area?
    • Will the Hospice center have a 24-hour camera? If so, will it be partially aimed towards the observatory?
    • Are there cameras on the mall?
    • Are there cameras on the church?
    • Can RAS help fund a security camera if it is aimed at the observatory?
  • How will we replace the telescope if we had to? Consider historic value and collector’s value.
  • A motion was made to review the insurance and to inventory the contents of the observatory.       Motion passed as action item for JohnR.



Contents of a handout that addressed our interest in Belmead storage/observing

(All comments and questions will be listed afterwards, in efforts to keep the contents as they were presented.)


Board members:

Based on some additional price quotes for storage buildings, follow-up discussions with Belmead representatives (Francis Emma, Inc. is actually the organization name — I use “Belmead” as shorthand) I have updated my proposed plan for an observing facility at Belmead. This is presented as a proposal that combines several individual actions that, if we choose to undertake them, would occur over the course of this year and 2015. With each part of the plan, I have tried to make pertinent notes.

Questions and answers regarding relevant questions/issues that have been mentioned to me are listed following the summary of the plan along with my summary financial analysis. Financial details and draft equipment inventory are attached for reference. I would ask Jim Blowers to pay particular attention to my financial analysis to assess whether he agrees with my conclusions. Note that the financial analysis was done earlier in the summer, but should still be valid as far as its conclusions are concerned.

My apologies for the length of this e-mail, but I want to make sure we have as many issues covered as possible so that we have a common understanding to the extent possible.


The financial analysis is attached.







In my opinion, RAS has three strategic needs regarding member observing resources and outreach:

  1. Plan for storage/deployment of donated telescopes: We have over time collected a fair amount of equipment and there are several options for making the best use of the equipment.
  2. Plan for one or more member observing site(s) The Powhatan Wildlife Management Area remains a usable site, but is less than desirable because of its public access which allows for non observers passing through the site with lights and for uncertain reasons. RAS needs alternative sites. We have been working with Belmead to establish such a site and with Powhatan State Park to develop a relationship that might facilitate use of such sites in the future.
  3. Plan for the existing Ragland observatory: The Ragland Observatory has served RAS members for a number of decades. Members have done an absolutely extraordinary job of making the best possible use of the facility even as development has grown around it. The site is still used for solar observing and for occasional open house events for lunar and planetary observing. It also has a certain historical value to RAS. Given the current use of the observatory, we should review the benefits of continuing its operation and plan for its ongoing use or develop a plan and schedule for transfer/sale of the property at some point after expiration of the contract for its use by the adjacent construction activity.



Draft Plan


  • Establish a storage facility at Belmead, contingent upon successful development of a use agreement. Belmead (Francis Emma, Inc.) has expressed support for the idea. Key elements of the draft proposal:
    1. Homemade Dob, donated by Don McAfee
    2. Large refractor, donated by Don McAfee
  1. Install a wood-frame, vinyl-sided 10×20 or 12×22 building with interior radiant barrier, entrance ramp and double doors.
  2. A manufactured portable wooden building can be obtained locally; can be delivered and installed as a package with a ramp. This type of portable structure can be moved in the future if another site is determined to be more appropriate or if otherwise desired.
  3. Place the storage facility adjacent to the mansion parking area on the side of the parking lot farthest from the mansion to avoid visually impacting the view of the mansion.
  4. Power the facility with a solar/battery electric system with battery charge controller capable of connecting to multiple solar panels and batteries. Limit the needed capacity to interior LED lighting, laptop/telescope operation and possibly a wireless router. Purchase of the solar battery system could be deferred until sometime after the initial building installation if preferred.
  5. Store the following scopes at the facility; leave scopes generally assembled and stored on dollies such that they can be readily deployed for observing events:
  • Miscellaneous small reflectors
  1. 12” SCT donated by Don McAfee
  1. In addition to storage, use the facility as a warm-room. Consider placing a propane space heater at the facility.
  2. Based on the attached financial analysis, RAS can afford from its operating budget, due to accumulated funds and due to the income from our lease agreement for the observatory properly, a portable structure 10×20 or 12×22 in size. The 10×20 size does not require a building permit – Belmead has expressed a slight preference for this size as it requires no permit.


  • Establish an undeveloped site on the Belmead property away from the mansion.
    1. A tentative site has been scoped out which would require clearing of brush, removal of one small tree. It would be necessary to obtain estimates for work required to clear and gravel the site. Consider funding by contributions and/or grant funding.
    2. Clear the site of brush.
    3. Place gravel on the site sufficient to allow parking of approximately 10 cars with observing space.
  • Consider adding a roll-off roof observatory at the remote site, to be funded by contributions or small grants.
    1. The roll-off roof structure could be made portable.
    2. The roll-off structure could be constructed by design as a roll-off or adapted from a purchased storage building.


Summary Proposed Plan of Action and Funding Proposal:

(contingent upon mutual agreement between RAS and Belmead)

  1. Purchase a portable 10×20 wood frame structure with ramp from either Forest View in Powhatan or Virginia Custom Buildings for up to $3800. Place the structure adjacent to the Belmead mansion parking lot. Fund purchase from RAS operating budget.
  2. Agree to pay Belmead a nominal amount for the member use component of the arrangement. Suggest perhaps $300/year. Agree to support public outreach events at least quarterly with RAS having use of the facility at any time as long as it does not interfere with a large scheduled event at Belmead.
  3. Develop a specific plan for powering the facility with a solar panel/battery system. Defer Board decision on funding and purchase of the solar equipment. Tentatively plan to fund solar equipment purchase from RAS operating budget.
  4. Use the facility for periodic outreach events at Belmead and member observing.
  5. Develop a plan for establishing an open (cleared and graveled) lot at a location on the Belmead property, but at a more remote site away from the mansion. Defer Board decision on funding until plan developed.
  6. Develop a plan for establishing a roll-off observatory at the remote site, Defer Board decision on funding and purchase of the observatory until plan developed. Consider funding with contributions and/or a small grant.
  7. Develop a near-term plan for the existing observatory given current and anticipated use.


Questions / Issues with preliminary answers:

What would be the overall goal of this project?

The overall goal would be to establish a dark sky site and/or facility that could be used by RAS members for serious observing and would be used as an educational resource for Belmead with assistance by RAS members.  In developing plans for the site/facility, it is extremely important to ensure to every extent possible that the relationship is mutually beneficial and that neither Belmead or RAS are unduly burdened and that use of the facility is consistent with the missions of the two organizations.

Is the sky at Belmead dark enough?

The sky darkness would approximate Powhatan Wildlife Management Area which is reasonably dark for a site within a moderate distance to the Richmond urban area. Belmead is somewhat closer to the prisons by the James River, but the Richmond light dome and the prison light domes are in the same general direction. It is reasonable to assume that viewing to the eastern horizon would be impeded by either one.

Would ambient/local lighting present a problem?

Belmead is a 2200-acre property, much of which has been placed in a conservation easement. This easement reduces or eliminates property taxes as long as the property remains undeveloped and is a strong deterrent to future development. This fact makes local ambient light likely to be a minimal issue for a number of years to come.

If a long-term observing site were located near the mansion, there would be some ambient light from the mansion, which can likely be minimized with opaque window shades. Parking area lights can be turned off with an outdoor switch.

If a special event were scheduled at the mansion, ambient lighting would impact or prevent observing on those occasions. Observing would need to be rescheduled or delayed until after the end of the event, If the observing site were located near the mansion, special events would need to take priority over observing events.

Is Belmead a sufficiently convenient location?

Belmead is 48 minutes I 40 miles from the center of Richmond / State Capitol area. It is roughly as convenient as the Powhatan Wildlife Management area. For members / guests in Richmond, western Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, Powhatan and Goochland, it is a reasonably convenient site, given the need to be away from the Richmond light dome. It is a significantly less convenient site for members traveling from east of Richmond City.

Is Belmead a sufficiently secure location?

Belmead is a privately owned property with staff living on the property. A riding club uses parts of the property regularly and parts of the property are currently farmed. The property is gated, although the gate entrance is not staffed. it is generally locked after hours in the evening with padlocks.

Since Belmead is privately owned with staff in residence, it is reasonable to expect that it is acceptably secure. However, if a facility were located far from the mansion area, security would be reduced. It is possible, but has not yet been discussed with Belmead, that an internet connection could be established to monitor the facility remotely.


Would the operators of Belmead allow sufficient access to RAS members and guests?

Belmead has indicated that RAS is very welcome to observe from the Belmead property. In order to ensure that observing would be as convenient and as productive as possible, it would be important to make arrangements for RAS to have impromptu observing events as well as scheduled events. This ability to have impromptu events would be necessary in order to take advantage of good weather opportunities and member availability.

Although not yet discussed with Belmead, it would be possible to place additional locks on main gate and on the parking area lighting control box to allow RAS member access. It would likely be necessary to designate specific RAS members to be key holders. It may be necessary for key holders to be present during observing sessions.

Is a physical facility/building needed?

A physical facility, building or observatory would not be required, but would be helpful to store equipment currently in the RAS inventory and which we may receive through future donations. For the equipment to be used most effectively, it would be helpful for the equipment to be stored at the observing site so that it could be deployed relatively quickly with a minimum of transport distance.

Depending on the size/capability of such a facility, it might provide a warming area, observer napping area or a resource for future remote observing.

There are two existing storage options available at Belmead: One in a classroom space external to the mansion and another below the old bandstand near the mansion. The storage space in the external classroom is generally not locked and is used by other parties. The space below the bandstand is below the level of the parking area and would present a significant challenge to deploying telescope equipment stored in this area to a location where it could be used. For these reasons, neither existing storage location is considered usable.


Why not place the storage facility at the remote observing site?

One of the primary purposes of the storage facility would be to house telescopes used for general member use and for outreach. Because public outreach is best hosted where cars and visitors can be safely managed, a location near the mansion where the parking lot and indoor facilities can be used is the most logical choice. Placing the storage facility near the mansion does not prohibit establishing a separate site/facility at a more remote site on the Belmead property primarily for member use.

What sort/how large a facility would be useful?

Initially, a simple 10×20 or 12×22 wood-frame storage building that can be purchased in the area, transported to the Belmead site and installed would provide the minimum space/capability requirements to store RAS equipment and make it readily deployable at a dark sky site. A local building permit is required for the 12×22 size facility as it is over 200 square feet.

As more equipment is donated to RAS or as members wish to have more dark sky site capabilities or amenities, the facility could be expanded to the extent agreeable to Belmead.

A wood-frame storage facility would be moveable to another location in the future, if a more desirable location were selected for the future. A moveable wood-frame structure could also be sold if it were decided to eliminate the site altogether.

Should we consider purchasing a storage building kit (such as available from Lowes or Home Depot) and constructing it by members?

Using a kit of the type available at retail stores would likely save money but would require coordination of members to construct the building. The structure may not be as strong or durable as a manufacture building. For example, some kit structures do not have vertical studs placed as closely as manufactured buildings, resulting in less strength and less portability.

Would users of the facility have access to Belmead’s restroom facilities?

Belmead is in the process of constructing outdoor restroom facilities behind the external classroom near the mansion. Based on current experience, it is reasonable to expect that Belmead would allow users of the observing facility to use the facilities during hours when the indoor facilities are not available.

If an observing facility were constructed, would plumbing and septic service be needed for the facility?

It is not expected that plumbing and septic system would be required initially for the observing facility. At some point in the future, it might represent an additional convenience that would enhance the observing experience. Although an added convenience, it is not expected to ever be an absolute requirement.

Would utility services telephone/electricity/internet connection be needed for the facility?

It is not expected that utility services would be required for the facility. However, it would be a significant convenience to at least have battery power sufficient to operate interior LED lighting with sufficient supplementary power to operate telescope equipment and a few laptop computers. Wireless internet router operation would also be an added convenience if Belmead agreed to allow RAS members to connect to the internet and if the RAS facility location were sufficiently close to make the connection.

Because of the potential expense of connecting utility-electricity to a facility and consistent with Belmead’s mission to practice and educate about environmental stewardship, installation of a solar-recharged battery system may be an appropriate option. As long as the capability is limited to interior LED lighting and laptop/telescope operation requirements, a light-duty solar/battery system would likely suffice. If greater capability were desired, additional electrical capacity may be needed. If a solar/battery system were installed, consideration should be given to a scalable system that could accommodate additional solar panels and batteries.

How would we pay for the facility?

Based on local building price quotes, it would be possible to purchase a wood-frame building that would minimally serve RAS needs for $3743 – $4754, including delivery, installation, permitting and ramp installation. It is possible that a lower price could be obtained with further review, but this range is based on actual quotes and likely to accurately represent market prices.

A light-duty solar power system could add $925 by my estimate, but could be purchased later depending upon available financing at the time. Based on an analysis of our current cash reserves and anticipated lease income, RAS could afford $4588 in the near term with some margin for safety. A reasonable plan would therefore be to use our cash reserves to purchase the facility, allowing the anticipated lease income to partially replenish our reserves. It may be advisable to fund future expansions of the facility that may be contemplated with grants or specific contributions.


What ongoing compensation would be required to Belmead?

Belmead views an important part of their mission to be education.  To the extent that RAS is willing to host and staff periodic educational observing events and to fund construction and maintenance of the facility, Belmead may not require compensation at all.  If Belmead does require compensation, an ongoing lease payment or contribution to the cost of internet service (if RAS uses it) may be appropriate.  This issue has not yet been discussed with Belmead.

What ongoing facility maintenance would be required?

Possibly grass-trimming in the immediate area, washing of the vinyl siding, cleaning, maintenance of the electrical system and lighting.  Maintenance would be similar to the existing Ragland observatory with the exception of a solar/battery system which would be somewhat different than a utility-supplied system.



Total cash reserves as of May 2014 $7,533.00
Income anticipated from obs lease payment $3,600.00
Average annual expenses (current) $1,958.00
Can afford to spend
(Assuming that half of cash reserves after deducting full annual expense and adding anticipated lease income are available to spend) $4,587.50
[(Reserves) – (annual expenses) + (lease income)] x .50
Low Building Cost High Building Cost
Entry cost of storage building $3,743.00 $4,754.00
Deferrable expenses (optional or deferrable to later date, solar power system) $925.00 $925.00
Total $4,668.00 $5,679.00
Can afford $4,587.50 $4,587.50
Can afford either of the following
(1) Purchase 10×20 building at low cost and begin optional/deferrable work right away
(2) Purchase 12×22 building at high cost and defer optional work until later




Questions and concerns discussed at the Board meeting

Briefly RAS has 3 needs to discuss and consider:

  • Storage and deployment of donated telescopes
  • Plans for 1 or more new dark sky observing sites
  • Plans for the existing Ragland observatory.


In general, when considering the solution for each of these goals, the following need to be considered:

  • Security
  • Usage
  • Expenses
  • Accessibility


(1) An inventory of RAS equipment was reviewed. Several items are considered to be defective and not restorable due to mold.

The following need to add to the inventory list:

  • Randy Tatum has possession of a Hydrogen-alpha filter and an energy rejection filter unique to the Ragland telescope.
  • Prashant has the bottle rocket launcher used on Astronomy Day.


(2) We need to consider having other night sky viewing sites and handling the location of our equipment.

At this time, our 2 best areas to consider are Powhatan Wildlife Management Area and Belmead, with the later being the better of the 2 locations. No other site has been ruled out, and new sites will be considered if there is interest from the Board.


(3) The board discussed what needs to be done to store some of the RAS equipment at Belmead.

  • Will we need to purchase storage shed? Or can we use an interior room for storage? Is there a concern about security at the location? Can we possibly set up a pier at Belmead?
  • RAS should consider 2 different locations at Belmead – a public location near the mansion and a private location in a remote mowed field or a gravel area.       There are no plans to make this a permanent structure.
  • We reviewed a handout of cost and size information on several manufactured structures for use as storage facilities at Belmead.
  • Do we need a porta-potty in the private viewing area? Consider cost and maintenance issues.
  • Consider asking for an installation of dual lighting system for night vision and observing reasons.
  • Ken has been asked to look at the proposed equipment for storage (Part (1)-E of the drafted plans) at Belmead, if we decided to take that route.
  • If RAS does go ahead with the storage of equipment at Belmead, we need to continue our process of scheduling all of our events – no unannounced or last minute visits.
  • RAS liability insurance will be reviewed and presented to Belmead. What does it cover? Fire? Injury? Damage?
  • Consider how extreme weather conditions will affect the equipment? Remember there may be no access to equipment with snow on the ground.
  • Consider what we need to compensate Belmead for? Internet usage, electrical costs, . . .


Another possible option for RAS is to purchase their own private land and consider the same building and storage options. Electricity and internet may not be easily available. Possible use of solar power? Use of ‘hot spots’ through phones.


A motion was made and passed by the board to continue discussion and consider all available options concerning our interest with Belmead.



Next Meeting Date – November 17


  • Meeting was adjourned at 8:45 pm.




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