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Sykesville could get its first makerspace, at historic facility in South Branch Park

The historic facility known as the Apple Butter Warehouse, located across the Patapsco River on the grounds of South Branch Park in Howard County, could host Sykesville's first makerspace.
The historic facility known as the Apple Butter Warehouse, located across the Patapsco River on the grounds of South Branch Park in Howard County, could host Sykesville's first makerspace. (Wiley Hayes / The Advocate)

At its meeting Monday evening, Sykesville Town Council members heard details of a proposal to bring a makerspace — a first for the town — to South Branch Park.

Members of Hive Coalition — composed of people from organizations including Downtown Sykesville Connection, Howard County Recreation & Parks, Ridge to Reefs, Arium AE and the Pie3 robotics program — presented to the council about their goal to open a new makerspace, or a facility where people can share expertise and equipment, especially in areas of technology.

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According to Hive Coalition, their plan is to “engage and prepare next professional generations by transferring knowledge and applications and by promoting access to new and innovative technologies for youth and adults, arts projects, community activities and green programs.”

One of the goals to bring the makerspace to Sykesville is to preserve and restore the historic facility known as the Apple Butter Warehouse, located across the Patapsco River on the grounds of South Branch Park in Howard County. The facility was used to manufacture apple butter starting in 1944, though the site has had different industrial uses since as early as 1789, according to a Maryland Historical Trust review.

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Hive Coalition also wants to increase the attractiveness in Sykesville and to improve the quality of life downtown.

“It really was the idea that we need a place for kids — and adults for that matter — but the idea of a makerspace that would benefit kids and adults in the neighborhood,” said Paul Sturm, executive director of Ridge to Reefs, an Eldersburg-based company that works toward environmental goals such as reducing water pollution. “I think from my perspective, why I’m here and why I sort of had the idea was that, my kids are going through Carroll County Public Schools, they’re 18 and 13. I feel like our schools, they’re great schools, but they’re not really preparing our kids for future jobs in this country.”

According to Sturm, the point of the makerspace is to provide a place where kids and adults can “make things and be creative,” but most importantly where they can learn about programming, operating computers, practicing 3-D printing, coding and STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

According to the Hive Coalition presentation, in 2016 the U.S. had about 3 million more STEM jobs than it had workers to fill those agencies.

“The idea is to build tomorrow’s leaders, not just tomorrow’s workers or something like that. I think that it’s important that kids get comfortable in the future robotics,” Sturm said.

The building wouldn’t just serve as a makerspace, but also as an innovation hub and community center.

“The idea is there could be music events, we also want to have different technologies like solar panels and also people can learn about some of these things as well as actually experience them in the makerspace and work with some of these things building skills in today’s marketplace,” Sturm said. “So, again, just the idea of building community and empowering people.”

The makerspace is an effort for the community of Sykesville by serving as an incentive for the completion or pavement of the parking areas that will increase parking overall downtown, increasing the traffic volume downtown, providing activities and programs for an age group that currently have little options in the area, providing opportunities for continuous training and workforce development for professionals in the area and complementing Main Street business district without creating competition for the merchants, according to Hive Coalition.

Councilwoman Anna Carter expressed concern about approval from Howard County, which owns the property, but liked the idea.

“I have no question about this because it’s amazing,” she said. “My comment or question is, you said that you had several meetings with Howard County, but how willing is Howard County feeling to say ‘You’re good to go?’ ..."

In reference to concerns from Howard, Sturm said, “I think that if we come up with the money, I think they’re very supportive of this project. I don’t think there’s going to be sort of dragging us down by our heels.”

Mayor Ian Shaw expressed support for the proposal but had some concerns about the process.

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Councilwoman Stacy Link responded to Shaw’s concern by explaining the presentation and the work of the Hive Coalition further.

“What’s important for you guys to know is what the intent and the goal is, right? The bones and the process are not things that we have not spoken about yet, they are the meat of most of our meetings,” Link said. “This presentation wasn’t to involve you guys (Hive Coalition) in that at this point, so there is much more than a skeleton built with respect to the bones of getting this done.”

According to Sturm, there is still much that needs to happen to get the makerspace online; they need to work on the structural design to make sure that water never runs through the facility and address other structural issues. A cost estimate for the full buildout and rehabilitation of the building is in the works.

Sturm also said they need to start writing some larger proposals.

“We really haven’t been able to ask for a lot of money yet because we don’t we don’t have the backup information to say this is exactly what it’s going to cost in terms of rehabilitation of the building, because that’s the big-ticket item,” he said.

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