A Promise of Stars

Junior Elizabeth Tarsitano sat down with senior Justin McCarthy concerning the recent addition to Hopatcong High School courtyard, Justin’s Eagle Scout project. Scouting since 2006, Justin has contributed an observatory to the school grounds. The green building that now stands next to our greenhouse, is Justin’s dream come to fruition.

L- What were some of the requirements to become an Eagle Scout?

J- There are seven ranks in Boy Scouts and there are also six in Cub Scouts. The ranks have various requirements, but in Boy Scouts, on the side, you have to do at least 21 merit badges.

L- How did you come up with the idea for your project?

J- I have been going to an astronomy convention since 2006, and at the convention, it gave me an interest in astronomy, but I also saw a talk about an Eagle Scout who made an observatory for his high school. My uncle had one,  so I figured I would make one, here at the high school.

L- How did you design the layout for it and how long did that take you?

J- My uncle has one and he had a CD-ROM with the plans on it;  it has various sizes on the disc, so I selected one, a size that met my needs, and I also altered it a bit for modifications, like I put in a steel door.

L- How would describe the purpose of it?

J- There is a telescope instead, there are books, so its purpose is to educate the people of the school and the public.  I’ve been talking to STEAM coordinators and science crew and they want to infuse it in their curriculum.

L- When is it primarily used?

J- I’d like to use it about once a month; I haven’t held anything yet just because of the weather.  When it snows, there is just no feasible way for people to go out there in the winter, but definitely in the spring, and when it gets warmer.

L- Who has access to it?

J- I do, I have a set of keys, and I also gave a set to the facilities department; they have access to it, as well.

L- How would someone go about getting permission to use the observatory?

J- We are going to go about setting up a nonprofit; my father is going to give me guidance in the process, but I think I want it to be a branch of the school system, because I think it would be most appropriate.  The intended audience is mostly the schools. I want there to be public Star Parties, as well, as for students, field trips, and if the public wants to access it. I would like to create some social media or website where they can look up available dates when they can come out.

L- What was required of you as you were making it?

J- Well, I had to get approval from the town, who I did the project for, from the Board of Ed, to put it on the property, and the Land Use Board because of the zoning requirements that needed to be met.  There was that, which was the approval. I also had to acquire materials and donations. I did that by promising them that their names would be put on plaques that are inside the observatory. In the end, I also needed to file paperwork and have a Board review.

L- While creating it, did you run into any problems?

J- The plans normally call for it to be on stones, so I needed to excavate a bit, lay down some patio stones, make it all level, and then build from the ground up, but the building department wanted it on a concrete foundation.  So, I needed to come up with 3 yards of concrete; I called County Concrete and they actually donated the 3 yards of concrete, and it rests on a concrete foundation now.

L- Was there ever a point that you were not confident in finishing the project?

J- No, somehow I always thought I would be able to finish it.  I always said to myself if it came to it, whatever the issue was, I would dump my money into it, but it never came to that, although I did put in about $500.

L- Are the staff, primarily the science teachers, aware of what it is?

J- I’ve shown some science teachers, I’ve shown some teachers around the building, the principal has been inside.  Ultimately, I would like them to be very familiar with it because they will be custodians, in a way. I would like them to teach their students, rather than having someone from an observatory do it.  I would like the teachers to be comfortable in using it and be confident in its usage.

L- Have any students or staff members reached out to you about it?

J- There has been a staff member from the middle school who has expressed interest. I have to get in touch with them.  Mr. Binotto and Dr. Edgerton I’ve spoken to a lot about it because they are in charge of STEAM. My friends who were involved in its creation were so interested as well, and they have seen it.

L- Do you think, in the future, STEAM kids of the middle school will be able to come up and use it?

J- Yes, I would like all of the schools to use it, like grade level appropriate stuff.

L- How long did it take you to finish your project completely?

J- I started filling out paperwork in February of 2016, and it was structurally complete in October of 2017, so about one and a half years.

L- Was the final product like what you originally imagined?

J- I would say so, probably a little bit better.

L- Was it worth the long hours you spent working on it?

J- I think so, being an Eagle Scout is everything.

L- How did it feel to finally see it completed after putting all of the hard work into it for such a long time?

J- My favorite part is that it was on paper, in my imagination, but then actually seeing it physically there and having people recognize what it was and its existence–J-Mac-1 that was probably the best part about it.

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