“Maker community” growing into new space

By Leslie Chaffin

The Wichita area has always taken pride in its skilled workers, and an organization called MakeICT shows that talent isn’t limited to employees performing their regular jobs.  

The “maker community” – a group of people who like to make things – is expanding for the third time in its eight-year history. The former Booth Elementary School at 5920 E. Mt. Vernon will provide MakeICT with about 22,000 square feet of workspace filled with equipment for wood and metal working, jewelry making, ceramics, textiles, an art gallery, print shop and more.

“It gives members access to equipment that many could not afford or have the space for at home,” David Springs, the group’s current president, said. “But it’s the access to others who may have expertise or advice to share that I think our members value most.”

Springs, 60, notes that the organization’s membership “is very diverse, not only in what they like to make, but we have all ages. I would estimate that about 30 percent of our membership is 50-plus. Some even bring their grandchildren with them when they come in to work.”

A 92-year-old wood worker is MakeICT’s senior member. Springs’ own passion is creating unique clocks and the occasional handcrafted pen. Just under 400 people belong to the group.

MakeICT got its start in a backroom of what was then the Bluebird Arthouse in the Delano neighborhood as simply a place where people could gather over coffee to talk about things they were making, or wanted to make. That evolved into a rudimentary workspace and eventually a non-profit organization with a membership fee of $25 was formed. In 2015, with the help of a Wichita Community Foundation grant, MakeICT moved into the 8,700-square-foot L.J. Pracht building on East Douglas.

That gave it visibility and a spot in the burgeoning Douglas Avenue Design District. A laser cutter/etcher, 3D printer and more specialized equipment were added, but the group ran out of space.

“We reached our saturation point for the Douglas space about two years ago,” Springs said. “We were in the process of looking for another space when the church that had this building decided they would merge with another congregation.” 

The building was purchased in October. 

“It’s already set up with separate rooms which suits our needs, and we’ve been very fortunate to have Spirit (Aerosystems) loan us several of their employees to help design the electrical and help us with the work,” Springs said.

Other local companies are encouraging their employees to get involved, and some are even helping employees pay the $25 a month membership because they want their employees to be well-rounded in their skills. 

While there are expenses for materials, all of the work on the new building has been done by volunteers. MakeICT obtained a certificate of occupancy in mid-March and hopes to be using the building this month.

Upgrades include more pottery wheels, a new letter press, equipment for book binding, more classroom space and a kids’ learning area. A security system will allow members to be in the building any time of the day or night.

The building’s huge boilers are being replaced by three instant heating units. Lines running through each room from the old boiler system that will enable heating of the building using water from a creek that runs along the back of the property.

“We’re excited that we will have a very environmentally friendly HVAC system,” Springs said. 

Members took care to court the East Mt. Vernon Neighborhood Association. 

“We attended a neighborhood meeting to introduce ourselves and talk to our future neighbors,” Springs said. “We were warned there would be one neighbor who would be against our moving into the building. By the end of the meeting, she told her husband he needed to be a member. They really warmed up to us.”

Learning is also a big part of MakeICT. Last year it offered 360 classes.

The cost of remodeling the building is expected to run $118,000, but members hope energy savings and the end of a lease payment will help offset that. They plan to pursue grants and have started a GoFundMe page.

“We’re not raising our membership fee with this move,” Springs said. “We’ve had other maker spaces ask how we can continue to keep membership at $25, and some of that is that we are all volunteer. We don’t have any paid staff.”

It’s probably not finished growing either. MakeICT offers tours at 7 p.m. on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month to prospective members and anybody else who’s interested.

 “It’s foreseeable that within a year, there may be no time that there isn’t someone in the building,” Springs said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to work in this building.”

Contact Leslie Chaffin at lrchaffin20@gmail.com.

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