New London — Groton’s Dan Flavin, an engineer at Electric Boat, gave at least one good reason why he uses the sprawling wood shop at Spark Makerspace instead of doing his woodworking projects at home.
“I obviously can’t fit a table saw into my third floor apartment,” Flavin said.
Flavin, who runs the woodworking department at Spark’s newly renovated premises at 7 Union Street, worked as a carpenter while in college. Like others at Spark, he now shares his skills with anyone interested in creating things like a Kentucky cane chair or a handcrafted cutting board.
Spark’s various workspaces were on display during a grand opening ceremony on Saturday. Founded in 2015, the non-profit organization did without a band breakthrough. Instead, Mayor Michael Passero used a battery-powered jigsaw to cut through a board nailed over the front entrance to the applause of a crowd of nearly 100 people outside the building.
Makerspaces are community workshops where people can meet to create, invent, and learn together. Spark was founded by artists, engineers and entrepreneurs interested in supporting the idea of a shared workspace. It offers courses, equipment and a community where like-minded people collaborate and share ideas, said Casey Moran, Spark executive director.
There are five fully equipped workshops in the Union Street building: woodworking, stained glass, fiber arts, electronics and fine arts. The fine arts room has screen printing equipment. The electronics room has a 3D printer. The fiber art room has stations with sewing machines.
The renovated first-floor space of the nearly 10,000-square-foot Union Street building is the size of its last location at 225 State St., but still has an entire second floor that needs renovation, said Kristin Harkness, Spark CEO by directors. Plans for the second floor are still under review, but there will likely be an audio and video room, a recording studio, and maybe a painting area.
Spark occupied premises at the former El ‘n’ Gee Club at 86 Golden St. when it was founded. It later moved to rented premises at 225 State St. before purchasing the Union Street building for $60,000 in 2020. Spark was reopened to members earlier in the year.
Harkness said Spark members were “overwhelmed” by the building’s potential during their search for a new permanent home. That potential was realized when the $500,000 donation goal for renovations was met. Spark’s list of partners includes Thames River Innovations Place, a regional business development agency.
Though severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Spark now has approximately 100 members and continues to raise funds and seek funding opportunities to subsidize its programs and paid staff.
“Our goal is to be a self-sustaining, not-for-profit company,” said Harkness.
Other income comes from the various course costs and the monthly membership fee of $55. Members have access to all workstations, seven days a week from 7am to 10pm. Individuals interested in membership can visit the organization’s website, sparkmakerspace.org.
Faith Scimone, who moved to Waterford from California with her husband John, said she was excited to learn there was a makerspace in the area. Both began volunteering and her husband, an electrical engineer, now heads Spark’s electronics and technology division.
“He loves to teach and looks forward to sharing with other people,” she said.
On May 12, the technology department will offer a three-part course on sewing LEDs into circuitry on fabric to make glowing clothing.
There’s also an upcoming one-day workshop on making stained glass nibs. There are also courses in soldering, quilting and screen printing.
In addition to access to equipment and workshops, Spark Board Member Erica “Maple” Andrews and her daughter Violet said Spark enlivens downtown and provides a welcoming and unique place to collaborate with others.
“Everyone’s really nice,” said Violet Andrews. “It’s a welcoming community.”
Bill Foreman, who splits his time between Waterford and Florida, said he discovered Spark a few years ago and now uses its lumber business. Foreman runs a lumber business in Florida.
“You find people who are doers, and they’re usually good people,” he said.