By Emma Cotton/VTDigger
RUTLAND — A 9,100-square-foot expansion of the MINT, a makerspace in Rutland, will soon provide a space for local residents to learn a slew of new skills the organization has not offered before.
Volunteers helped complete the move into the new space last weekend. They transported equipment such as 3D printers, a laser cutter, an electronics lab, a jewelry lab and a light table for stained glass from the old space on the eastern end of the building to a much larger space at the western end of the building.
Now there’s room for a tool library, where members can borrow equipment instead of transporting unwieldy projects to The MINT, a pottery studio with wheels and kilns, spaces to paint and photograph work, a retail shop with salvaged and donated supplies for purchase, a designated space for kids and families, and a bike shop.
“It will let people bring their own bike and do that spring bike tuneup, but you could also build a bike from scratch,” Executive Director Karen McCalla said. “And people are working on that project right now to build a bike from scratch because we have wood and metal labs.”
The new room, which shares a wall with the existing wood and metal shops, is big enough that team members rode some of the shop’s bikes in laps around the floor before the move.
“It’s a huge expansion for us,” McCalla said. “We’re adding a ton of new shops, which is really exciting.”
The building, on Quality Lane off Cold River Road in Rutland Town, is owned by Chamber & Economic Development of the Rutland Region, which rents to various businesses. The MINT was able to take over the larger section after another business no longer needed the space.
Launched in 2017, The MINT hosts space and equipment for people who want to learn new crafts — and for people who want to turn those crafts into businesses, something McCalla said she’s seen happen several times within the organization’s walls during the pandemic.
Liam Fracht-Monroe owns one of those businesses, called Insane Fire Pits. When his day job in event planning quieted last spring, he wanted a way to spend more time outdoors with his family. He had taken welding classes in high school, and decided to relearn the skill by making his own metal fire pit.
Now, Fracht-Monroe has sold almost 100 custom fire pits to people all over the country, he said, and to local businesses such as the Lake Bomoseen Lodge. He’s working on another product now that he thinks will be easier to ship, which he hopes will further grow the business.
“There’s just been a wealth of knowledge at The MINT from some of the other members in terms of, you know, manufacturing processes and you name it,” he said. “I’m a pretty handy person, but metal manufacturing was certainly not on the top of my skill set list.”
The MINT closed for two months at the onset of the pandemic but has remained open since June, allowing socially distanced independent work. It hopes to restart classes soon, and having the large, open space, which has a garage door for air flow, helps their timeline.
A focus on including women
Morgan Over, The MINT’s first-ever paid employee, will teach many of the classes. Over and McCalla said they’ve both worked to invite women to classes and ensure they are included within the general atmosphere of The MINT.
“It really is tough sometimes, as a female, to come into a space that’s dominated by tools,” McCalla said. “It feels really intimidating. We really want people to come in and be able to try something and feel comfortable trying it. And part of that is not being the only woman.”
Over has taught home repair workshops for women called We Can Fix It through NeighborWorks of Western Vermont and has worked locally as a contractor.
Over became involved with The MINT after building a deck for McCalla, who quickly recruited her to the operations team.
“One thing I noticed when offering classes is, when I offer a class, I will naturally get more women signing up than if a man offers a class,” Over said. “I’m very excited to bring that to The MINT.”
Members pay $50 per month for access to the space, and classes are offered to nonmembers for various prices, depending on the space they’ll use. McCalla said she’s working to grow the membership, which now stands at around 50 people, but was at 100 members during its peak.
McCalla said the MINT has been a selling point for people who decide to move to Rutland. The Real Rutland campaign features the MINT on tours given to prospective area homeowners, she said.
She knows people who chose the city because of access to the outdoors, moderate housing prices “and there was a makerspace here, so they had like a built-in community of people who they knew they would connect with.”
McCalla and Over are perhaps most enthralled thinking ahead to the post-pandemic era, when Rutland makers can gather again in the new lounge at the building’s entrance. The MINT regularly hosted mixers before the onset of Covid-19.
“The best part about those nights is just being able to meet other members and see what they’re working on,” McCalla said. “Putting members in contact that way is the best thing that we could do. I’m looking forward to doing that again.”