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MakerLab leaves Powerhouse for bigger location

Science center explores possibility of hosting Big Picture High School
Pat Miller describes the coffee table she made out of upcycled material to Suzie Grimm during the 2019 MakerLab and Powerhouse celebration for the inaugural Spring-Build-Up Furniture Building Contest at the Powerhouse. The MakerLab has found a new location for its facility on Turner Drive and is set to open in mid-May. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The MakerLab has parted ways with the Powerhouse Science Center to establish its own location on Turner Drive with more space for fabrication machines such as 3D printers, laser cutters and more. The Powerhouse seeks to host Big Picture High School students in the space vacated by the MakerLab.

The materials fabrication shop has leased work space in the Carlton Family Science Education Center at the Powerhouse rent-free since 2016. It is moving to 434 Turner Drive, Suite 6. The cause for the move is the need for more space than the 1,800 square feet available at the Powerhouse.

Brandon Walter, one of the MakerLab founders, said in a news release that the new location provides about 3,500 square feet of space, almost double the size of its space at the Powerhouse. Walter said the new location will allow MakerLab to grow its existing disciplines and bring new ones into the fold.

Jeff Susor, Powerhouse executive director, said the space at the Powerhouse for MakerLab had always been considered a temporary setup since the organization’s founders approached the science center in 2015.

“It was a group of volunteers that were really part of the Powerhouse asking to launch as a separate organization with new space, and it felt like the time was right and the opportunity was right for them,” he said Saturday.

The Powerhouse and MakerLab have spent the last several months working through the details together. The MakerLab made its move in the last couple of weeks, Susor said.

The MakerLab is set to open in mid-May and will provide equipment and tools such as laser cutters, 3D printers, shops for metal and woodworking, textiles, electronics, design computers and dedicated classroom and conference space, according to a news release.

“It’s a very exciting time for the MakerLab,” Walter said.

Susor said MakerLab’s move is a “win-win” for both organizations. The Powerhouse is first and foremost an education institution for children.

“When they came to us with that (relocation) we were like, ‘Well shoot, that’s a no-brainer for us, too,’” he said.

Susor expects the Powerhouse’s summer education program to host about 450 children this year, more than twice the program’s enrollment numbers going into the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“So just the access to that space (left by MakerLab) and the ability to grow programs in that space, it’s going to be a huge asset for the Powerhouse,” he said.

Susor said the Powerhouse’s summer program addresses a need for additional learning because there has been so much disruption in schools.

“I think everyone’s seeing the same thing in terms of demand for summer learning for kids,” he said.

Susor’s immediate plan for the Powerhouse’s freed-up space is to host Big Picture High School students there. The high school is attached to the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building, which was sold to the Durango Fire Protection District last year.

Even though Fire Chief Hal Doughty has said the school district can continue to use the facilities through the end of the year, the district is working to find a new location for Big Picture High School.

“With the sale of the district office there’s kind of this short-term need to find a home for Big Picture while we figure out a long-term place for those kids,” Susor said.

But before the school district can use the Powerhouse’s space, Susor has to get approval from Durango City Council, which is the science center’s landlord, he said.

“The Powerhouse is technically owned by the city, even though almost all the money to renovate the space and do environmental remediation came from us as the nonprofit,” he said. “Our landlord’s still the city.”

Susor said he is meeting with Durango’s planning department and City Manager José Madrigal on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of hosting Big Picture High School at the Powerhouse for two years.

“It’s a chance for us to work more closely with 9-R than we ever have and really provide a real, urgent solution to making sure there’s a good, safe place that is inspirational for those kids as they look at the next school year,” he said.

Lisa Stone-Muntz, Powerhouse board president, said in the news release she is grateful for time spent collaborating with MakerLab.

“A heartfelt thank you and appreciation to the MakerLab Leadership and Powerhouse Board of Directors who worked closely together to plan for the future and to create even more exciting opportunities for children, youth and adults to thrive in our community,” she said.

The Powerhouse gave more than $200,000 in in-kind support to the MakerLab through rent-free space since the project’s inception, the news release said.

The Powerhouse will host a makerspace of its own aimed at school-age children in its gallery. The Powerhouse’s TinkerLab at the Mensch Spark Shop will also allow children and guests to learn about 3D design, robotics and engineering, according to the news release.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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