The Day – Spark Makerspace Brings Abandoned Downtown Building To Life

New London – Dan Flavin of Groton, an engineer at Electric Boat, has offered at least one good reason why he uses Spark Makerspace’s expansive woodworking shop rather than doing his woodworking projects at home.

“I obviously can’t fit a table saw in my third-floor apartment,” Flavin said.

Flavin, who leads the carpentry department at Spark’s newly renovated space at 7 Union St., worked as a carpenter while in college. Like others at Spark, he now shares his skills with anyone interested in creating things like a Kentucky stick chair or a handmade cutting board.

Spark’s various workspaces were on display at a grand opening ceremony on Saturday. The nonprofit, founded in 2015, chose not to cut the ribbon. Instead, Mayor Michael Passero used a battery-powered jigsaw to cut a plank nailed to the main entrance to the cheers of a crowd of nearly 100 outside the building.

Makerspaces are community workshops where people can come together to create, invent and learn together. Spark was founded by artists, engineers, and entrepreneurs interested in supporting the idea of ​​shared workspace. It offers courses, materials and a community where like-minded people collaborate and share ideas, said Spark Executive Director Casey Moran.

There are five fully equipped workshops in the Union Street building: cabinetmaking, stained glass, textile arts, electronics and visual arts. The visual arts room has equipment for screen printing. The electronic room has a 3D printer. The textile arts room has stations with sewing machines.

The nearly 10,000-square-foot Union Street building’s renovated first-floor space is as big as its last location at 225 State St., but there’s still an entire second floor to renovate, Kristin Harkness said. , Chair of Spark’s Board of Directors. of directors. Plans for the second floor are still under consideration but should include an audio and visual space, a recording studio and possibly a space for painting.

Spark, when founded, occupied space in the former El ‘n’ Gee Club at 86 Golden St. It later moved to a leased space at 225 State St. before purchasing the Union Street building for $60,000. in 2020. Spark reopened to members earlier this year.

Harkness said Spark members were “blown away” by the building’s potential when looking for a new permanent home. This potential began to materialize when he reached a fundraising goal of $500,000 for the renovations. Spark’s list of partners includes Thames River Innovations Place, a regional economic development agency.

Although severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Spark now has approximately 100 members and continues to raise funds and pursue grant opportunities to support its programs and paid staff.

“Our goal is to be a self-sustaining, not-for-profit business,” Harkness said.

Other income comes from miscellaneous course costs and membership fees of $55 per month. Members have access to all workstations from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. Those interested in joining can visit the organization’s website, sparkmakerspace.org.

Faith Scimone, who moved with her husband, John, to Waterford from California, said she was delighted to hear the area had a makerspace. Both started volunteering, and her husband, an electrical engineer, now runs Spark’s electronics and technology department.

“He loves to teach and is happy to share with other people,” she said.

On May 12, the Technology Department is offering a three-part course on how to sew LEDs into circuits on fabric to create light-up garments.

There is also an upcoming one-day workshop on making stained glass feathers. There are also courses in welding, quilting and screen printing.

In addition to access to equipment and workshops, Spark board member Erica “Maple” Andrews and her daughter Violet said Spark enlivens downtown and provides a welcoming and unique place to collaborate with others.

“Everyone’s really nice,” Violet Andrews said. “It’s a welcoming community.”

Bill Foreman, who splits his time between Waterford and Florida, said he discovered Spark a few years ago and now uses his carpentry shop. Foreman runs a carpentry shop in Florida.

“You find people who are makers and they’re usually good people,” he said.

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David H. Henry