While there is much work ahead to start a proposed district-community “Innovation Center” project – including approval by the Stoughton Area School Board – the project already has a nice head start on possible fundraising.

Last week, the district announced a $250,000 commitment from the Wahlin Foundation, the fundraising arm of Stoughton Trailers, which is the largest gift in their history, said Fab Lab Stoughton adviser Mike Connor.

“This is the spark that was needed to turn the idea into a reality,” he wrote the Hub in an email.

In February, the district proposed the idea of an innovation center, combining hands-on, Fab Lab-type opportunities for students with space for adult education and a business incubator, and has been refining the proposal since.

District spokesperson Derek Spellman said part of the reason for the district approaching the Wahlin Foundation was to “gauge the potential support for this kind of project as we go forward.”

“We are deeply grateful for the seed money that the Wahlin Foundation has provided and for its continued support for our district, which includes not only the Fab Lab but also new welding equipment for our high school program,” he wrote in an email to the Hub.

“We are taking the first steps in what we hope will be an exciting journey for our district and our community.”

Betsy McClimon, director of The Wahlin Foundation, Inc., said the company is excited to “give the ‘kick-start’” to the project and is confident it “has the dedicated leadership to achieve its goals and will offer a huge opportunity for Stoughton.”

“We feel the Innovation Center would greatly benefit the community and would offer something for all ages, students, the school district, businesses and entrepreneurs,” she wrote in an email to the Hub. “We are confident that this project will be a success, especially after seeing the high school Fab Lab succeed and be the envy of other districts across the state.”

Planning process

Connor said district officials spent recent months “floating the idea with area companies, foundations, government entities, school board members and community groups,” and said “the overall response was very positive and encouraging.”

Spellman said while the project would be an SASD initiative, district officials are hoping the center becomes a community resource.

“We like to think of the Innovation Center as a skills incubator more than anything,” he said. “We start by asking what kinds of skills do our students and stakeholders want to develop and then we would equip the center with technology to foster those skills.”

While the high school’s Fab Lab already affords some of those learning opportunities, Spellman said the proposed innovation center would be “on another level.”

“This would be a more communal makerspace where we hope everyone – hobbyists and entrepreneurs, students and professionals, kindergartners and senior citizens – could find a place to access not only technology but also expertise to pursue their interest,” he said.

Next steps

At its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 5, the Stoughton Area School Board will review plans for the proposed innovation center.

Pending approval, the district will begin developing a more detailed plan for the center and raising funds for the project, such as pursuing grant money.

Spellman said there are still many items to be fleshed out, including the center’s location, infrastructure, equipment, etc., which in turn will affect final cost estimates or timetables.

“That means it’s important for us to conduct our due diligence and engage with our stakeholders as we go forward,” he wrote in an email to the Hub. “But we can say that we are looking to create a facility that supports our district as well as our community.”