Islanders’ ideas wanted for creation of possible Vashon ‘makerspace’

Makerspaces — centers for working on projects and sharing ideas, equipment and knowledge — have increased dramatically in the last decade, and this weekend, islanders will have a chance to weigh in on possibilities for such a space on Vashon.

In recent years, several islanders have been working toward making this idea a reality and will host a public meeting for people to share their thoughts and vision this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Methodist church.

“We need a group that says, ‘I want this to happen, and I have a constituency,’” said Neil Wiesblott, who is a co-chair of the Vashon Makerspace board of directors along with Steve Graham.

The roots of the project go back a few years on Vashon, and those connected to the makerspace idea say they would like to see substantial progress — a physical space — this year. The result will be driven by community response, they say, but they envision, initially, a small space with two or three studios, likely focused on woodworking, technology and possibly fiber arts.

“The depth and skills on Vashon — what islanders know is remarkable, whether it is robotics or fiber arts,” Wiesblott said. “There are so many things we … can do. We want to start out in a couple small ways and prove we can do it and then open the door to execute on that.”

Some of the people involved are the same people involved with the Vashon Tool Library, where members can borrow tools and miscellaneous items for projects or repairs; the Tool Library, which provides the Fix-it Cafe, falls under the Vashon Makerspace umbrella.

Three years ago, members of Island Greentech, a business incubator, approached Graham and other members of the Tool Library steering committee about creating a woodworking cooperative. The idea was — and is — to create a place where people can come together, share their ability and creative spirit and learn things.

Since then Graham, Wiesblott and others interested in the idea have been working to make it happen — talking to members of different groups on the island, including veterans, the Vashon Library and Vashon Center for the Arts.

While they are working toward the creation of a physical space for their vision, they are offering classes, including a series of woodworking classes coming up in April at Vashon High School and a day of technology, such as computer programming and sound mixing, at the Vashon Library in November.

Wiesblott said he and other organizers have found people “have a hunger” to do things with their brains and hands.

“It’s the notion that I can go into the kitchen, and the faucet is dripping, and I say, ‘Yeah, I can fix it,” he added.

The mission is beyond more than making things — or fixing the faucet, Graham and Wiesblott said, noting that they have talked with leaders of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) about bringing an expert to the island to help train people for post-disaster responses as part of this effort.

“The basic way we see things is that our mission is to create an organization that makes the community stronger and more resilient,” Graham said. “We will make our organization better if we can keep that mission in mind.”

Graham and Wiesblott say they also have “a handshake agreement” to work with island veterans, some of whom are intending to create a retreat center for vets and their families that would include a workspace.

Wiesblott said that he has talked with countless islanders about this idea, and no one has said to him they think it is a bad idea. However, one of the obstacles for bringing the vision to life is money. Wiesblott said he and other organizers envision memberships— annual or monthly, possibly drop-in fees, with scholarships available. He added they have not figured the financial part out yet and have not yet created a business plan — largely because they believe any Vashon makerspace must be community-driven. Saturday’s meeting is intended to be a big step in that direction.

For their part, Island Greentech leaders are interested in what is transpiring, but state that whatever they get behind must be financially sustainable.

Greentech has what one member termed “a good chunk of change” to put behind a makerspace project, whether it be with the group hosting Saturday’s meeting or another. The money Greentech has came from the sale of high-end woodworking equipment that was donated to them in 2013, but was not suited for a community setting. The group sold it and kept the proceeds to fund a community effort. Dan Safford, one of the Greentech members, said they would like to see proposals that include a physical space and revenue projections. The designated money is intended for equipment, not operations, according to Greentech’s Tag Gornall, stressing that whatever plan Greentech funds must be solid to ensure that the investment goes forward.

“Anyone have good ideas?” Saffard said. “We have got money. We just need a reasonable idea.”

To that end, those involved with Vashon Makerspace say that 70 to 80 have expressed interest in this vision — but more are needed.

“Can we take the depth and breadth of knowledge that is indigenous to Vashon and spread the wealth?” Wiesblott asked.

The meeting on Saturday is intended to help answer that question.

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