Community makerspace proposed

Local resident pitches nonprofit community center for STEM work

AYER – James Jones, a local software developer, is looking to give the community a place to develop their own innovative ideas.

Jones, who’s lived in Ayer for the last five years, is proposing the formation of Makers Yard, a nonprofit organization that hosts a community space for people to visit in the hopes of developing products and technology. Jones’s pitch has received support from the town’s Office of Economic & Community Development, which is planning to host a public forum on Oct. 30 at 6 p.m. to gauge the public’s interest on the proposal.

“I wanted to do something for my community to share knowledge in science and technology trade skills,” Jones said last month. “A lot of kids go to vocational schools for this great opportunity and the history of the town has been this railroad engineering community.”

Jones said he got the idea from a friend who works in computer design and also saw the need for a Makerspace in town and supporting local residents with skills in engineering. His proposal is to have the Makerspace in a building, with somewhere downtown being the focus, with a full workshop. The space would feature equipment to work on projects, including 3D printers, computer labs and classroom space for educational and training sessions. Jones also proposes having representatives from other engineering companies visit the Makerspace to offer training and insight into the field.

If the final plans ends up requiring the need for buying land and building a structure for the space, Jones estimates a $2.5 million price tag on the project. If Makers Yard instead ends up re-purposing an already-existing space, Jones said he hopes the cost comes under $1 million with most of the required money going to buying equipment and setting up the space.

Jones and the Office of Economic & Community Development is planning a public forum to present the idea and gauge the interest of the community. Jones said he’s also forming a nominating committee to determine who will be on Makers Yard’s board of directors and finding volunteers to help oversee activities at the space.

“People who are part of the nominating committee should be passionate about being a maker,” he added. “They should want to see more makers have the ability to do what they love. Everybody has the ability to create something, so we want to be the crossroads of technology, art, content creation and engineering.”

The proposal first took town government attention in August, when Jones met with Ayer’s Director of Community and Economic Development Alan Manoian to discuss his proposal. Manoian told Jones that he liked the idea but noted how other people had tried establishing a Makerspace in town before.

“What often ends up being a hurdle is being able to secure physical space and sustain it,” Manoian said last month. “It always starts enthusiastically but it’s hard to sustain. James is being very smart doing the nonprofit approach with access to grants.”

“I’m trying to do this quite differently,” Jones said. “We’re trying to be a community service company instead of just a club. This not only has the ability to make the community come together but also upscale the community.”

Manoian said he hopes to “work closely” with Jones throughout Makers Yard’s development and sees his idea as a way to nurture the talents of future skilled engineers, perhaps even giving local companies a hub to scour future employees.

“Our innovation companies in town find it difficult to have talent pools or having enough people being groomed for jobs,” he explained. “If this space takes hold, then a lot of young talented people have a training ground and a platform for successive planning. It’s almost like an apprenticeship.”

“We want to offer the freedom to come do stuff and learn how to make and share what they know with the world,” Jones said.