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Jacques Kelly: The Foundery in Port Covington is a manufacturing university

Put on a set of safety goggles if you visit The Foundery, a makerspace in South Baltimore. You might need some earplugs, too.

Put on a set of safety goggles if you visit The Foundery, a makerspace in South Baltimore. You might need some earplugs, too.

Located just west of the Hanover Street Vietnam Veterans Memorial Bridge in Port Covington, a former city maintenance garage is now home to a people's university of industrial education.

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"Like Uber is for sharing rides, like Airbnb is for sharing houses, we're here for sharing tools," said Jason Hardebeck, its chief executive officer, who balances a deep appreciation for machinery with knowledge of the digital universe.

A few years ago, he sold his business, WhoGlue, to Facebook. He now has the time to devote his day to machines and teaching.

Hardebeck began The Foundery in 2013 in an old Central Avenue industrial plant he owned. He was delighted by the building's overhead traveling cranes and drill presses, but soon realized he needed a larger space.

He became a business partner with Sagamore Ventures, the venture capital arm of Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank's private investment firm, and moved The Foundery a year ago into a 20,000-square-foot space in the manufacturing building that Plank set up at 101 W. Dickman St.

"In the past year in our new space, we've taught 1,000 people the basics of welding," Hardebeck said.

This is a place where the sparks fly, lathes whirl and tempered steel knives emerge, glowing bright orange, from a forge. It's also a spot where four couples signed up for a Valentine's Day special — a three-hour class in industrial welding.

There are lasers, a large wood shop and an electronics section. "We have every toy you can possibly imagine," Hardebeck said.

"This is not just about people making a career change — or starting a company," he said. "It's entertainment. It's fun."

Hardebeck, 51, who came to Maryland as a student at the Naval Academy (Class of 1987) grew up in Montana in a family of farmers and ranchers.

"I grew up in a family whose members were self-reliant and self-sufficient. They inspired me become a mechanical engineer," said the former Navy nuclear engineer. "I grew up in a town where you couldn't take four years of math, but you could take four years of auto body repair."

He describes his vision at The Foundery. "We a manufacturing boot camp," he said. "We are a prototype shop, an incubator for manufacturing. The idea of this space is to build anything you want, regardless of economics status or educational background. Our members have Ph.D's and GED's."

Foundery members pay a fee of $150 a month for unlimited access to the shops, seven days a week.

"But anyone can take a class, and most classes range between $25 and $75," Hardebeck said. "Our most popular classes include a knife-making workshop and intro to welding. Laser engraving is also big.

"What is impressive to me is the look on someone's face when they've completed something they've never done before."

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The Foundery was once the repair shop where the Department of Public Works brought broken jackhammers, damaged fire engines and ailing garbage trucks.

"The place once had a forge and a blacksmithing shop. We brought it back," Hardebeck said. "We even found the power hammer dated November 1965 with the city's ownership tag. We found it in New Jersey. We brought it home."

He described a typical Foundery day as beginning when the sun starts to go down, as members show up after work.

"We've become an alternative to a happy hour in a bar," he said.

The name of the operation, Hardebeck said, sums up its mission. "The idea is we don't just make things. We provide support for startup manufacturing businesses. We make founders."

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