ACWORTH - A local warehouse that houses two student robotics teams may soon also be home to small businesses and individuals engineering and creating new projects.

The Cherokee Makerspace is a first-of-its-kind in Cherokee County, developed by Firestorm Robotics, which serves students at Etowah, River Ridge and Woodstock High School, and Lithium Robotics, which is made up of students from Cherokee, Cobb and Paulding counties. The two teams share 3,000 square feet on two-levels in a facility near Acworth, and are opening their space to businesses and individuals to help cover their operating costs.

High school students have limited hours to use the space, so the makerspace opens it up for 24-hour use, said Alex Cua, one of the lead mentors for Firestorm Robotics, formerly known as Etowah Electric Eagles.

"The idea, the impetus behind setting up a makerspace is to finally make the whole place available with the hopes that the community buys in and it also deflates the cost of running it so that the burden is not passed onto the students, because it’s quite expensive to run this thing," Cua said.

For a monthly subscription fee, people will be able to use the makerspace's main workshop area, a wood shop, a classroom and meeting room, and the equipment there, including a milling machine for cutting wood and metal, 3-D printers and computer aided design (CAD) stations. They'll also have access to potential training in skills like coding, metalworking and woodworking through some of the club's industry mentors.

The makerspace works for tinkerers and engineers who would like to try out equipment that they may not have at home, said Bill Wrye, the lead mentor for Lithium Robotics.

"It provides community members the ability to access tools and access training that they wouldn’t otherwise have. A lot of people don’t have heavy equipment at their house; they might not have a table saw, or air tools or whatever it may be, and they have to work on a project or they want to learn," Wrye said.

Subscriptions will start at $60 per person per month, although there are now subscriptions at a reduced founders rate available. At a date yet to be determined, the robotics teams will mark the grand opening of the makerspace with an open house. 

A representative of the Cherokee Office of Economic Development said the organization's staff is enthused about the new makerspace's potential.

“We are excited for the potential the Cherokee Makerspace – the first of its kind in the county – can have on building the local ecosystem of makers, doers, and dreamers,” said Jonathan Chambers, COED manager of entrepreneurship. “A makerspace strategically builds for the future through creating a community for makers, tinkerers, woodworkers, and inventors alike to learn and grow in their craft. This hands-on experience helps prepare today’s workforce for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Firestorm and Lithium both compete in FIRST Robotics competitions, where they have taken robots to regional, state and national contests. 

The students have made waves beyond robotics competitions. Firestorm, which shares membership and is closely tied with the Interact Club at Etowah High School, last year launched a project to create mobility devices for children with disabilities, modifying Power Wheels and Go Baby Go products. This summer Firestorm, with Lithium and three other Georgia FIRST Robotics teams formed the Interact FIRST Alliance, so that robotics teams across the state can use engineering to serve their communities. The motto for the alliance is "robotics with a soul."

The Etowah Interact club and the robotics community service projects are supported by the Rotary Club of Towne Lake as well as industry sponsors and mentors. Wednesday, the Interact students received  $5,434 check, half from a Rotary district grant and the other half a match from Towne Lake Rotary, awarded for the mobility projects.

"The way I look at it as the club president is, how could we not support this? Not only are you teaching these kids things that will help them in their professional lives, you're instilling in them the heart for service and the importance of service," said Towne Lake Rotary President Erika Neldner. "I'm so proud of these kids."

The robotics mentors are also working to expand the mobility service project to younger students, incorporating it in curriculum in classes at E.T. Booth Middle School, and plan to create a new engineering program specifically for girls.

For updates and more information about the Cherokee Makerspace, visit www.cherokeemakerspace.org. For more about the robotics teams, visit www.firestormrobotics.org and /www.lithiumrobotics.org.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Andrew Cua was one of the mentors for Firestorm Robotics. Andrew Cua is a member of the team. We regret the error.

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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