RDC approves $122,187 to create third GCSC ‘fab lab’

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Already home to 3 Fat Labs, Greencastle will soon be the site of three “fab labs” following action by the Redevelopment Commission Wednesday evening.

While there is no connection to the event center out in Madison Township, the third fabrication lab to be created by the Greencastle Community School Corporation (GCSC) will be a K-12 version of the fab lab concept the GCSC first brought to the RDC in February 2021.

That first iteration brought the idea to the middle school with a $197,500 grant from the RDC, using funds acquired by the city via tax-increment financing (TIF) on industrial improvements in the area. A year later, in February 2022, GCSC turned its attention to developing a fab lab at the high school and was awarded a $195,000 grant for that purpose.

GCSC Supt. Jeff Gibboney explained that the latest request would result in funding to purchase equipment and cover the costs of training for the K-12 digital fab lab, pushing the program down into Ridpath and Deer Meadow primary schools and Tzouanakis Intermediate School with “a purpose to provide opportunities for students to learn 21st-century skills.”

Fab lab director and science teacher Jacob Hale said it will provide students an “opportunity to refine their skills” and could “translate to the workforce and may just provide some life skills.”

He indicated that were two pieces to the GCSC proposal. One would be to see that what is being done at GMS and GHS currently “becomes more of a capstone to the process.”

Using artistic and creative equipment, not just technical tools, Hale said students “learn how to take ambiguous situations and apply tools to them.”

“I’m excited that we have a whole bunch of kids discovering these tools and discovering engineering,” Hale added.

He called the second phase “a culminating experience” and a true workforce development experience.

In the past, Gibboney has called the fab lab “a 21st-century wood shop” but with routers and laser cutters and other devices providing “the many tools students would use in advancing a manufacturing career or other careers.”

Business teacher Kara Jedele, who said she will be teaching a marketing fundamentals class next year, said the current class has had practical applications, such as designing and creating T-shirts for Greencastle students and chaperones to wear on a international trip they just made over spring break.

“Why not do it for real?” she added, suggesting that the goal is to reach out to the community and schools and find jobs the fab lab students can do. They also previously did shirts for the Putnam County Youth Soccer League.

The two big things about the program, Jedele noted, are being “a student-led businesses and a sustainable business ... they have to graduate.”

Hale explained that there will be some reshuffling of equipment with items used for introductory purposes at the high school moved down to the lower grades, while more professional design equipment will be brought into the middle school and high school “so our graduating seniors have a professional experience.”

Gibboney, Hale and Jedele were joined for the City Hall meeting by students Lilly Welch, Lenora Hale, Grace Cornell and Cammon Wiseley.

“I think it’s fantastic,” offered RDC member and City Council President Stacie Langdon, who asked if the program puts Greencastle “ahead of the game.”

Greencastle, Hale said, went with the Owen County model for the original project but has expanded upon it.

He explained that some of the equipment he’s asking for would broaden the experience from an apparel business to a manufacturing business.

“My desire,” Hale said to oohs and aahs from the room, “is we’re writing patents in years to come.”

He sees the new program “translating students to the Crown (Equipment) level or to Heartland or they’re ready to step into Phoenix Closures.”

Langdon suggested that is “a great selling point to the people in the community” and something that may even attract families to live in the Greencastle school district.

As a parent with young children, RDC member Chris Flegal sees the fab labs effort “enhancing the learning experience.”

RDC President Erika Gilmore asked Hale if there were anything else he wished he had asked for regarding the program.

Noting that there is “some pretty expensive equipment” out there between where the GCSC program is currently at and how it may look in the future, Hale pointed to a metal fabrication possibility.

Not only would that require specific equipment but require safety factors as well with rooms needing to be made “laser safe” for operations.

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” Hale said.

However, metal fabrication efforts could provide interesting options in which students, for example, could design earrings with GHS logos or other things significant to the community or to themselves.

Apparel remains the “huge emphasis right now and will continue to be,” Hale reasoned.

RDC member Brice LeBlanc asked if the school corporation had “explored any alternative sources for funding.”

Additional grants may be possible in the future, Gibboney said, while Jedele noted that the program has also received MAC grants from McDonald’s Corp.

Meanwhile, Hale said he would like to pursue partnerships with Crown Equipment and Heartland Automotive, suggesting that they could give students an engineering problem to solve and let them explore real-world situations. He is also hoping to get some donations from companies operating in Greencastle but conversations about that have not yet occurred.

“The program hasn’t gotten to that point yet,” Hale added.

The grant from the RDC is considered non-reimbursable as long as the funds are used consistent with the furtherance of the creation of the digital fabrication laboratory and pursuant to state and local laws.

It’s a relatively new concept, City Attorney Laurie Hardwick noted. The state legislature in 2009 made it possible for RDCs to contract with educational institutions for “certain educational and worker training programs designed to prepare individuals to participate in the competitive and global economy,” according to Resolution 2024-1, passed unanimously after a motion by Cody Eckert.

The City Council, several years ago, agreed to take 100 percent of the TIF funds, no longer passing a portion through to GCSC and other taxing entities.

“This is our way of giving some of that money back to the schools,” Hardwick explained.

Also approved unanimously, following a motion by Langdon, was an interlocal agreement contract between the City of Greencastle and GCSC for the creation of the K-12 fabrication lab.

Other business from the March RDC meeting will be included in a later article.

RDC members Gilmore, Langdon, Eckert, Flegal and LeBlanc were joined for the session by Mayor Lynda Dunbar and City Attorney Hardwick.

The next regular session of the RDC is set for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 24 at City Hall.

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