Completed in the summer of 2021 and funded Manheim Township Educational Foundation, the SkyLab Observatory includes an outdoor science classroom equipped for students grades K-12 to learn, conduct research and connect to planetariums and observatories across the globe. 

A permanent structure with a retractable roof, the SkyLab provides a home for the district’s observational astronomy equipment, including a professional refractor telescope. Fixed mounting improves the precision of instruments and reduces variables in experiments, while protection from the elements and decreased handling extends the longevity of equipment. Now, instructors spend less time training students on equipment and more time teaching; students spend significantly less time setting up and breaking down and more time collecting data and conducting scientific research of the sky.

“In this observatory, students quite literally have the universe at their fingertips. The ability to have such experiences in grades K-12 is unparalleled at the local or state level. Very few examples exist on a national level that rival this level of commitment to STEAM learning,” says Dave Farina, high school science teacher and planetarium and observatory director.

First presented to MTEF by Farina during the 2017-2018 school year, the $125,000 project was funded over three years, in four phases, including an initial fact-finding and engineering phase. Special thanks to MTEF donors Clark Associates Charitable Foundation; APR Supply; Brightbill Transportation; Ephrata National Bank; Fulton Bank; Gibbel, Kraybill and Hess; High Industries; Mid Penn Bank; Orrstown Bank; Pediatric Therapeutic Services; Peoples Bank; S&T Bank; Sharp Shopper; Traditions Bank; Univest; Waste Management; and Weis for providing key contributions to bring this project to fruition.