SIOUX CITY — It doesn’t matter if you want to become a “Chopped” champion or chop some wood, a new Sioux City venture has the equipment, space and instructors to help visitors do both.
MakerSpace Sioux City is set to open later this month and the purpose of the nonprofit business is best illustrated in its straight-to-the-point name.
It’s a place where people come together to make something whether that’s in the demonstration kitchen, state-of-the-art wood shop, sewing room or computer lab equipped with 3-D printers and a laser engraver.
The presence of makerspaces — also known as hackerspaces, hackspaces or hacklabs — have been on the rise nationally in recent years. In a way, makerspaces are the blue-collar cousin to office co-working spaces.
“There’s a definite need here and no one has anything like this in Sioux City,” said Eric Holmquist, a MakerSpace Sioux City board member and an avid woodworker.
As Holmquist noted, MakerSpace will be a one-of-a-kind facility in the region. The next closest places that offer similar attractions are in Des Moines, Omaha and Sioux Falls.
Bringing something like MakerSpace to the area has been a dream of Holmquist’s for more than 20 years.
To get started, three years ago he reached out to Gary Turbes, the executive director of Sioux City-based Mid-Step Services, a nonprofit that assists people with intellectual disabilities.
Initially, Holmquist wanted to see if Turbes would be interested in collaborating with him on a project.
One idea he had in mind was that he and other woodworkers would build birdhouses and Mid-Step’s clients could paint them and then sell them as a fundraiser for the organization.
As they were trying to figure out how that project would work, Holmquist shared with Turbes his dream of a community woodshop. Instead of limiting it to just woodworking, Turbes suggested they expand the concept.
“Let’s get all different kinds of disciplines: Robotics, technology, and everybody is loving the 3-D printer stuff,” Holmquist recalled Turbes saying. “Those are things that would just enhance what we were initially trying to do.”
Shortly after, MakerSpace registered as a nonprofit and a board of directors was formed to oversee it. One of the biggest challenges the board faced was finding somewhere to build MakerSpace.
After a thorough search, the board acquired an 8,000-square-foot space last fall on the corner of Tri-View Avenue and Hamilton Boulevard that once housed a flea market and is highly visible from Interstate 29.
From there, board members and volunteers worked on renovating the site inside and out over the last year.
A major task included painting the outside of the building an eye-catching shade of dark blue and painting "MakerSpace" in big white letters above the entrance.
That paint job is what caught the eye of Tom Elledge, a Jefferson, South Dakota, resident who works in Sioux City and who became the latest person to join the eight-person MakerSpace board about a month ago.
“I got excited,” said Elledge, who was already familiar with the makerspace concept. “I got in contact with Gary and said, ‘I’d like to be part of this,’ and made myself available.”
Outside of anything that required a license to do, all the of the rehabilitation work necessary to get MakerSpace ready to serve the community was done by board members and volunteers.
Additionally, most of the equipment acquired by MakerSpace came via donations or grants, including a $25,000 from Missouri River Historical Development Inc. that financed most of the tools and accessories in the woodshop.
The hours and days of operations are still being reviewed by the board, but Holmquist envisions MakerSpace becoming a catchall venue for creative types in the region.
He also wants people who want to just come in and make a phone case with the 3-D printer or to sew a quilt to feel free to come in and use the resources available.
“We wanted to bring many disciplines in so that people could learn different skills,” Holmquist said. “I’m good at woodworking, but I don’t know much about the technology side or much about the sewing.
“I can take in a lot of information from people that are experts in those fields and, hopefully, I’ve got something to share with the people who don’t as much about woodworking.”
MakerSpace also will offer a wide-range of classes. Some ideas already in the works include a beer brewing course and a healthy cooking class, and the board is always on the hunt for more teachers.
Justin Vore, a board member from Le Mars who eventually plans on teaching a drone-making class at MakerSpace, said he wished there was a similar type of place in the area when he grew up.
While all are welcome at MakerSpace, Holmquist does think it could turn into a potential field trip destination for Boy and Girl Scout troops, school groups, 4-H clubs and other youth organizations.
“This is a big idea,” he said. “We all have our favorite things that we like to do and want to work in it and that’s why we got involved in the first place, but more than anything we want to give the community a place to work on these projects and give kids a place to work on productive things.
“We’ve got technology here; instead of playing just a video game or be on their devices, they can come out here and create with technology and put it towards some use.”
If the MakerSpace becomes a hit, which Holmquist and the other board members hope it does, they already have thoughts in mind for an expansion.
One proposal is to add a metal shop for welding and related projects and the other is renting out studio space to creatives who want a little more room to work.
Until then, Turbes and the others are just glad to see that MakerSpace is almost ready to open up shop after years of working towards this moment.
“I think it’s going to great for the Siouxland community,” Turbes said. “People can learn to make and do and teach (with) a hands-on experience.”