Niles S.T.E.A.M. Room seeks to offer makerspace to Niles

NILES — A group of people who share a passion for learning new skills and sharing ideas are seeking to create a community space where people can do just that.

Board members Kathy Joyce, Meg Edwards, Gail Bliss and her son Elisha Bliss are hoping to open the Niles S.T.E.A.M. Room by Jan. 1, in a building on Wayne Street that they have slated for the project.

The idea is that the community center and makerspace will offer science, technology, engineering art and manufacturing activities for people of all ages. There will be studio space available and the group is working to acquire technology, including 3D printers, a kiln, sewing machine, potter’s wheel and more. Classes will also be available to teach people how to use the tools and skills, like sewing and ceramics. The organization’s leaders also hope to offer after school programs for youth.

“[We hope this is a space for] interacting with each other and learning and sharing the skills that they have,” said Edwards, of Niles.

Gail, of Niles, echoed that sentiment.

“We also hope it’s a place to foster intergenerational relationships, because we have a large demographic of seniors with skills,” she said. “They have skills that are going to get lost. It would be so cool to bring those people in and have them share their skills with the next generation.”

The group has managed to achieve nonprofit status from the state and is currently working to achieve federal nonprofit status.

Joyce said the idea for S.T.E.A.M. is similar to MIT’s Fab Lab. A few years ago, Joyce approached Lake Michigan College to suggest they offer something similar. The college agreed and opened their own Fab Lab. The Fab Lab used to have a place at the Niles campus, but was eventually moved to community college’s Benton Harbor campus.

Without the lab in Niles, the S.T.E.A.M. leaders saw an opportunity to fill a gap.

While learning various crafts is part of it, the organizers said they also see the space as a place for ideas.

“It will be a good place where they can prototype projects,” Joyce said. “If you have an idea and want to prove a concept, you can come in and design something and make enough of them to give it a shot and put them on eBay or wherever you want to try and sell them. It’s a place where people can test out ideas and create something that they just wouldn’t have the tools to do.”

While Joyce lives in Florida, she is formerly a longtime Buchanan resident. She also still operates her Battle Creek-based business, Fun Learning Company, and frequently has to return to the area. When she does, she said she plans to stop by the Niles S.T.E.A.M. Room.

Like Joyce, each board member has a specialized area of expertise that they hope to bring to the endeavor. For Elisha, an artist from Coloma, the makerspace will be a place where he can share his passion for ceramics.

“I know this is huge for ceramics in the area,” he said. “For me starting out, there was no outlet where I could go throw on the wheel one day or use a kiln. Having this will change a lot for a lot of people.”

For Edwards, of Niles, she said she hopes to share her passion for sewing and possibly robotics.

The board members are also encouraging the community to get involved and offer to teach classes. Among the experts they are looking to join their team, the group is hoping to find someone who can teach engineering topics.

“As the community wants more we can increase it as it goes,” Gail said. “We want it to definitely reflect what the community wants.”

While the group is starting the organization with funds from their own pocket, the rest will be covered by user fees, as well as potential grants and donations. Those interested in utilizing the space will have to purchase a membership fee or day pass. Details on fees and more information about the Niles S.T.E.A.M. Room is available at nilessteamroom.com/services.html or by visiting the nonprofit’s Facebook page.

“We are looking forward to seeing what kinds of things people create,” Joyce said.

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