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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Joe Schlesinger is one of the co-founders of Make It Labs in Nashua. The city has shut down the haven for entrepreneurs and tinkerers for possible permit and building code violations.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Make It Labs
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Joe Schlesinger of Make It Labs
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Make It Labs
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Make It Labs
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel


    Part of the front office at Make It Labs in Nashua.
  • Staff photo by Bob Hammerstrom


    Facebook: Bob Hammerstrom at The Nashua Telegraph


    Experimenting with a piece of glass, Paul Hardin works on a laser engraver at Make It Labs in Nashua Thursday evening, July 7, 2011.
Thursday, December 15, 2011

MakeIt Labs, the new ‘hackerspace’ in Nashua, closed by the city for permits, other issues

Four months after it brought a blend of do-it-yourself-ism and geek philosophy to a former foundry in Nashua, creating what one person described as a “gym for professional engineers,” MakeIt Labs has been shut by the city because of concern about permits and building codes.

The nonprofit group hopes to fix the problems and reopen soon.

“It sucks that we have to be down ... but it doesn’t seem like they’re gunning to get us,” said Adam Shrey of Hudson, a member of the board of directors for the nonprofit MakeIt Labs. “We have to see what they actually come back to us, with a list as official things to do, before we can tell what will happen.”

The city’s concerns are numerous.

“We don’t shut places down unless we’re really concerned about the safety of people,” said Katherine Hersh, director of community development. She pointed to issues like insufficient venting of vehicle fumes near heat sources such as welding.

“Their business is so varied, with a variety of different industrial processes – a kiln, automotive repair, cutting and welding – and along with each one of those comes a variety of concerns,” said fire marshal Richard Wood.

Despite this, officials said they hoped the lab could reopen soon.

“Everyone wants to keep them here, and make sure those basic safety and health issues are met,” said Christopher Williams, head of the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, who met Wednesday with MakeIt Labs founder Joseph Schlesinger . “I’ve had a couple of conversations with city officials, and I know that they’ll all be sitting down and making this work.”

MakeIt Labs, which opened in July, has been featured in The Telegraph several times, but city inspectors visited the Crown Street building for the first time Tuesday morning.

“We got a call (Tuesday) morning, 8 to 8:30, that they’d be coming by at 10,” said Shrey.

The 6,000-square-foot Crown Street operation, in a long-standing industrial building on the edge of the railroad lines, includes equipment for members to experiment or collaborate on software design, constructions made via a 3-D printer or laser cutter, ceramics made in a small kiln, and tinkering with cars on a hydraulic lift.

Officially labeled an open-access workshop, set-ups like MakeIt Labs are usually called a makerspace (that is, a space for people who like to make things) or hackerspace. Founder Schlesinger described it, jokingly, as “fight club for geeks.”

A number of makerspaces, some commercial operations but most of them volunteer-run, are cropping up around the country, usually in larger cities.

“Having a funky, utilitarian space to create and share was unique. It’s almost the pre-business incubator stage, where ideas can get fostered, and seems like something that should be encouraged,” said Matt Cookson, executive director of the New Hampshire High-Tech Council. “The question is whether (they can) afford to open up a space like that and give the people the freedom they need while taking account of the liability factor – and somebody’s got to pay the rent.”

“The Chamber (of Commerce) is very interested in keeping them here,” said Williams. “This is absolutely unique. It’s a cool thing for Nashua to be able to say that it has something like them right here.”

Despite its appeal to young professionals – a group that Nashua would love to lure – the closure demonstrates the uneasy relationship between the official world of City Hall and the loose, bend-the-rules community drawn to makerspaces.

“What happened at MakeIt Labs is the sort of thing that kept us up at night,” said Molly Rubenstein, director of operations for Artisans Asylum, a much larger makerspace that just opened in Somerville, Mass. “There is a sense that makerspaces and hackerspaces are on the edge. They tend to illicit suspicion from inspectors and city governments because of what could go wrong.”

Artisans Asylum has three full-time staffers. Rubenstein said it cost at least $125,000 and took about six months, most of that time getting plans drawn up and inspections done, to renovate the 25,500-square-foot former factory that it now occupies.

“We delayed for an entire month, waiting for a sprinkler company to get us their plans so we could submit a building permit and start work,” she said.

MakeIt Labs is run entirely by volunteers. Its move from a tiny space in Lowell, Mass., was done largely through volunteer labor and effort.

Shrey said the group was reaching out to its members for technical help, particularly from licensed electricians and plumbers, to deal with any reported problems. Send e-mail to info@makeitlabs for more information, or check the Web site at www.makeitlabs.com.

Shrey said the group was not charging members its monthly dues – $40 for the “hobbyist” level, $75 for full membership – while the facility is closed.

MakeIt Labs is an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so donations are tax deductible.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashuatelegraph.com.