The old Woolworths department store in downtown Barrie could soon be transformed into a collective workspace, where the public uses high-tech and low-tech tools to create and build their own projects.
On Monday night, at General Committee, Barrie City Councillors unanimously voted in favour of helping to fund the project.
The 'Barrie Region Innovation Exchange pitched the idea,' or 'BRIX,' an organization made up of different community groups looking to create a makerspace in Barrie. The BRIX board was able to negotiate a lease at 59 Maple Avenue.
The space could be used for anything from woodworking to metalwork to 3D printing.
"The idea for the makerspace is generally what makerspaces are, which is a multi-disciplinary place where people in the community can do everything from learning to teaching, to DIY," says BRIX Board member Brian McGillis.
The Barrie Woodworkers club is also a part of BRIX, and after four years without a home, they too want to set-up shop in the new building. Their community woodshop was a fixture in the community for years. It started in 2004 and was partially funded by the city. Members used it for everything, from furniture repairs to making decorative carvings.
Members also gave back to the community. They built beds for a women's shelter and benches for the Barrie Curling Club. "We worked with the Cancer camp for kids," says past Woodworkers Club President Wes Prosser. "Built things for the kids that went to cancer camp; to paint or assembled. We also worked with the library."
The community woodshop location at Victoria Village was shut down because of issues with the building not being up to code. "The fire marshal found so many defects, that it just couldn't afford to be fixed," says current President Allan Cavender.
To get the makerspace up and running, BRIX asked the city for $300,000 to help pay for renovations to the building. After that, the idea is that the lease will be paid for by membership fees.
City councillors were initially hesitant to hand out the funding.
"We're talking about $300,000, and also it potentially opens the door for several other groups coming for significant amounts of money," said Ward 7 Councillor Gary Harvey.
But Deputy Mayor reminded councillors the funding would be coming from the city's community reserve fund, which was set-up for community projects like this one. The community reserve fund was created from dividends from the city's shares in Alectra Utilities, and doesn't rely on taxpayer dollars.
"I don't know why people are so concerned about the money when we're actually spending it exactly on what that fund was set up to do, "said Ward.
Mayor Jeff Lehman pointed out the space had been vacant for years.
"There's a portion of it that's still got the carpet and lighting, and the stuff from Woolworths. That's how long it's been vacant."
When councillors voted unanimously in favour of the project, the audience in council chambers broke out into applause.
"Oh, very happy. It's a major, major step forward," said Prosser, after the vote.
If the funding gets a second vote of approval at City Council next week, BRIX members plan to move into the new building in the spring.