CRANBERRY TWP — Nearly two years ago, Leslie Pallotta made a request for new carpeting in the Cranberry Public Library.
In response, township officials told the library director to “think bigger.”
The result of that brainstorming led to a plan for major renovations at the library, including radio frequency identification programming to allow for easy checkouts, and upgrades to accessibility in the physical space — for example, new entryways and lighting.
The main focus, however, is the creation of a “makerspace” within the library. The space is a small workshop outfitted with tools, work benches and materials that allows for collaboration and making things in a hands-on environment.
Last Tuesday, Pallotta and various “makers” showed off the benefits of a makerspace, displaying their work during a Cranberry Coffee and Conversation event at the township municipal center. Pallotta said the concept of a makerspace has been in the library’s master plan. As discussions progressed on making it a reality, she was approached by officials with the Cranberry Township Community Chest, who were interested in making the work the 2019 Project of the Year. Titled “Forge Ahead,” the goal is to raise $750,000 toward the work.
Additionally, Pallotta applied for and received a Keystone Grant for about $490,000 for the project. The grant requires a local match, leading officials to look at creative ways to meet that requirement.
Jessi Mazzoni, who is leading that aspect of fundraising, said the library intends to crowdsource the funds, with an online campaign tentatively set from the end of March to early May. She said kick-off and wrap-up events are being planned, with a goal of reaching a different demographic for raising funds.
“Really, our goal here is not just to raise some money, but really to engage people in a new way with what we’re doing here at the library,” she said.
Part of that engagement includes showing off what the makerspace offers. Last Tuesday, members of the HackPGH makerspace presented their best work. Much of that work involved 3D printers, which Pallotta said was a frequent request from community members as to what they would like to see at the library.
Group members Alan Bachmann, Rob Martin and Ryan Priore agreed with that sentiment, saying they have been forced to travel to makerspaces in Pittsburgh to pursue their hobbies. Having one in their backyard would create a community of creators, they said.
Martin, who is helping to guide the project, said he hopes it continues to gain support once the public sees that community form and the work being done. A creators fair is tentatively scheduled for May 11 to display that work.
For Bachmann, that work has been as simple as a new leg for a broken pizzelle iron, and as complex as a new hand for a little girl in need. Using a 3D printer, he created both for pennies on the dollar.
For 10-year-old Alli Bearer, it was creating a table full of “inventions,” and starting her own YouTube channel in which she describes the process. On Tuesday, she and her father, Jeff Bearer, presented a few of those inventions, including “Flower Power,” a plush flower linked to a computer system. Each petal of the flower has a button that creates a different musical note, and the leaves of the flower cycle through more than 120 instrument sounds. She also created a “levitator” in which sound waves can make a particle float.
These are all examples of the type of creations Pallotta and Martin see the makerspace producing.
“The whole maker movement isn’t just the technology piece,” he said. “It’s really taking the skills of using your mind, using your hands, coming out and creating something.”
Pallotta and Martin said discussions are ongoing as to how the space will be monitored as well as how a scheduling block would be implemented. Additionally, Pallotta said officials are looking at how payment for aspects in the space would work. She said the most common model allows for free use of the space, with the maker paying for the materials or providing their own.
Officials are also focusing on offering courses and guidance to those who are new to certain aspects of the makerspace, so that all community members, regardless of ability, can take advantage.
“The challenge is to make sure we bring forth activities and include everybody,” Martin said.