Dealing with "No Storage" at your build site or school

Has anyone here dealt with “absolutely NO storage at build site” before? How did/do you handle it?

I’ve help start a number of teams over a couple of decades, but this problem is a first for me…

The team is from a “virtual high school”, housed within a Community College’s campus. They have NO permanent physical presence (ie even a school building), other than a “HS office” in a college building. Students come from all over the county and this part of the state to attend here, so they are scattered to the winds every night.

Students use shared college building classrooms for meetings (just like any other college), roaming from college building to building during the day, and use the college’s machine shop building for their bot build. There is NO permanent storage at the shop (other than a FEW tiny individual “student project lockers”, reserved for shop class students, and reassigned each term), nor a even a permanent “FIRST Closet” to hold the “stuff” your typical team accumulates over time (kits, tool boxes, raw materials, old bots, trophies, etc…).

This means they have no “FIRST Team Room”, “FIRST Closet”, “Hall Trophy Case” or ANY other permanent storage (or presence) anywhere at the school.

We’re currently hauling stuff back and forth, and leaning on a teacher’s own office for a few items. But this is insane, and NOT scale-able … After only two seasons, just the kits and parts inventory is starting to add up.

We looked at Trailers as one option, but there are challenge there too.

The team’s in SE Michigan (“cold country” with lots of swinging temps, sub-freezing temps during the build etc) so it makes buying and using a Team Trailer to “hold all their stuff” problematic. We don’t have anyone to haul a big trailer daily, and we don’t dare keep a trailer on open public college campus grounds without loss/theft risk (which often happens to unsecured locations).

In addition, we’re concerned that keeping all of the materials in an unconditioned trailer space in Michigan means the seasonal temp swings might be a problem for batteries, plastics, etc in the long run. (It also means grabbing frozen metal in winter from the trailer during the build.)

No “club” at the school gets an office or a closet. Even the HS itself has only a tiny office set, in the college’s administration complex.

So… How do other “virtual schools” handle the TOTAL lack of even a basic FIRST Closet at their location?? Suggestions?

  • Keith

I don’t know that much about them, but PODS sound useful here. Easy to keep secure (they’re hard as heck to move), easy to lock, and fairly large.

I’ve worked with teams that would borrow garage space from parents.
Sort of in-line with boy scout quartermaster where it got passed from an exiting parent to a new incoming parent.
That eventually resolved itself into a trailer though, as garage storage became hard to come by with new parents.
Then they looked for trailer parking in a parents’ yard.

Are there any nearby environment controlled storage facilities that could be used?

Both require a pickup or closed van to transport materials, etc, for the team work periods.

Can you budget for some climate controlled self-storage location near the school?

This sounds like a truly unique problem and while I don’t envy the issue, it’s one that is fascinating for me. I have a lot of respect for teams with unique issues like this to solve. We’re a residential high school team (along with public and home school students in the are too!) so we have all the issues that come with most teams and the added issues of paperwork for transporting students even short distances from the school.

With all the downside to the current place, I would look at a few options to move off-site, and treat the current option as the backup/fallback option. Since you’re in Ann Arbor, I graduated from EMU, I would look at the following:

  1. Maker Works, a makerspace in AA. The team I’m helping start, Ignite, is also being sponsored by a makerspace. If you can work out something with them for a small build space, you’ll love it. It will do a couple things, first you’ll have a space. But more importantly, you find the passion of the makerspace members will spill over on to the team. The broad skills of a makerspace match up nicely with an FRC team. We have several members that want to mentor. Our team is considering at developing a FRC tool kit for makerspaces for our outreach this year.

  2. Contact U of M and EMU and see if their engineering departments would like to mentor a team. Georgia Tech does it down here. If the bigger schools don’t fit, look for the community colleges or tech school.

  3. Drive around the business parks at night. Find manufacturing companies that are working in the evening. If they’re already open, they might let you have a corner. It’s a lot easier to get access to a space that’s already open, compared to “Hey, can I have a key and security code?”

  4. Finally, if you’re a 501c3, look for vacant business space. The problem with this is it’s temporary. Start talking to realtors and letting them know that you need a space for 2 months, and the owner can write off the rent as a donation.


We used a 17ft utility trailer to store all our belongings for a couple years.

It ain’t fun.

I share your problem. We are a growing community based program. We have two FRC programs and a growing FLL base and NO permanent home. I’ve become the quartermaster.

I’ve been renting 4 “U-store-it” spaces for the last few years and we have glommed in to garages and some other spaces for off season storage. We have been working with the school system and have a part time solution during build season, but not during off season. They have some options in the works, but the wheels turn slowly.

I know we don’t have the temperature issues you see in Michigan, but have been pretty happy with the “U-Store-it.” Temperature sensitive materials end up in my garage. Several mentors and parents help to cover the cost for these spaces (10x20 = $100/Month). You can get A LOT of stuff in one of these places with some organization (and if you aren’t a terrible pack rat like me). It’s not optimal but one of the most important things we want is ufettered access. We have had offers to store materials, but if you have to ask permission and it’s an inconvienient for the owner, it will be a hassle when you need parts at 2 am.

I’m assuming this question is on the behalf of 6101?

These are great suggestions except that there are 11 teams in Ann Arbor + Ypsilanti (plus a handful more in the county). Most of the really obvious sources are tapped out (e.g. Maker Works). That said, there are a handful of machine shops that I know haven’t been approached by teams yet. My alma mater team has worked out of an industrial machine shop for the past nine years; it’s a matter of starting and building a personal relationship.

However, staying on-site has to be the first thing you look at, in part because that’s a nice shop you have access to. Not sure whether temporary storage would work for temperature reasons. There has to be some nook or cranny at WCC (and I’m unsurprised the WTMC admin can’t help). The theatre department may have an extra closet. Make friends with the janitors. Etc.

Find a sponsor with build space available. 95 has had several over the years, anything from a warehouse to a college machine shop. For a few years we even worked out a HS tech center in a school district different from our primary sponsoring school.

Are there many partially vacant strip malls in your area?

One of the Houston area teams used to have their build space in a vacant unit in a strip mall. Houston is rather overbuilt so many small strip malls have vacant units. I think they called around until someone agreed to rent them space at a reduced rate. If you have a non-profit set up, it may be possible for the property owner to claim the difference from your rent and the market rate as a donation and get a tax deduction.

You should contact the Kettering facility. They host many different teams there. It is a beautiful space. They have machine shop and computer lab. I have toured it and have been there for competitions. If you need contact info let me know I I can try to get you someone to talk to. I am not sure if they have space available but it might be worth asking.

My team spent last summer-a few weeks before build season working out of a literal electrical closet until the new (sort of) our school space was done. My advice- take advantage of this opportunity to create a great pit and work out of it daily. We used that closet space to store a brand new road case and other cool tools and stuff, all of which were approved by the school cause they saw a need for a better space etc. While it obviously wasn’t ideal and your situation is quite different, some unforseen positives were that pit crew practiced setup so much it took under 3 minutes at competitions, that new road case/tools, and once we were given access to the school fablab (which is again, now partially ours) it benefitted us a lot. With hard work, asking as many people as possible, and a bit of luck you will find a space to work out of. Whether that’s a company’s storage facility, vacant building, or just a closet at the school, by spreading your need around people will want to help, and with a little creativity/tetris skills you can make any space work for your team’s needs.

You can successfully store most FRC parts in an unheated garage in New Hampshire for a year. :slight_smile: When 1729 had an unscheduled year off, I think my house and garage held all the team parts. I’m lucky that we have a basement along with a two bay garage. Our wooden shipping crate (built back in the day when everyone shipped via FedEx) was sturdy enough that we packed it tight with storage totes (not Rubbermaid totes, they can’t handle the weight) and sealed it up tight against any mice that might get in during the winter. I think we stored the cRio, etc. in the basement.

I think you’ve received a lot of great answers. Doesn’t the community college have a facilities department? Maybe they could give you a corner of their space? Our team’s build space is an old wood shop space that share with the school’s custodial and shipping departments. It means that we might see three pallet loads of binders one day or two snowblowers another day but it’s definitely workable.

Similar to Marshall, I find this problem fascinating. Short of finding a new build space, all other option will require significant work and set-up/teardown. It sounds like the last couple years, you have already dealt with this model.

Do you think the facility would be OK with large cabinets on casters? Think roadcase style. Some cases that are 6 to 8 feet tall and about 2 feet wide by 3 to 6 feet long might be incredibly useful. Think basically a rolling cabinet or closet.

A possible benefit could be this style of cabinet would be useful for bringing in as your PIT shelving/storage solution. While you don’t want too crazy of structures eating up all your pit space, many teams do use roll in structures to provide a nice workspace. Still many others bring in portable shelving and lots of other separate toolboxes and battery carts and…

Now, if I was a school, I would not want just random Cabinets hanging out. So brainstorm how you could help the school out. What about connecting the three cabinets so that the backs are facing outwards and have “bulletin” surface. A large triangular kiosk parked in an open space might be good to add student awareness items.

Overall a very challenging issue. If you guys find a good solution, please let us know.

I’m not sure how expensive it would be, but a temperature controlled storage unit may do the trick. Bonus if you can work in it itself, provided it’s big enough and whoever runs it allows such a thing. May even convince them to sponsor you by giving you the space at a cheaper rate.

Kettering is almost an hour away from Ann Arbor, while I agree they have a nice workspace it hardly seems practical for this team.

IMO, I would see if the school would let you keep a shipping container on site somewhere. Shipping containers can be fairly inexpensive to buy (~$5000), come in a variety of sizes and can be made secure fairly easily. In Michigan temperature control is always an issue, but even if you have to keep batteries stored somewhere else it would be easier (and cheaper) than finding an entire climate controlled storage space. For that matter, an extension cord (or some solar panels) and a small space heater of some kind might solve the issue as well (for a more permanent solution, they also make HVAC systems designed specifically for shipping containers).

I seem to recall there was another team that worked out of a shipping container for a while, can’t remember who though.

I think it was 1678.

Why would batteries need to be kept somewhere else?

Lead acid stores fine at low temperatures, in fact they self-discharge less at low temps.

I would have thought that sub-freezing temperatures would be a problem, are you telling me I should actually be refrigerating my Lead-Acid batteries over the summer? :eek:

It’s worth noting that the last paragraph recommends not letting any battery freeze, so temperature control is still important in areas where sub-freezing temperatures are a problem.

Freezing is relative. A fully charged lead acid battery won’t free until -92°F. So, if you’re seeing sub-arctic temperatures, yeah, heat your stored batteries. If you’re living anywhere besides a scientific research station or the top of a mountain you’re probably fine cold-storing fully-charged batteries. :wink:

Note that storing a depleted battery, or allowing stored batteries to self-discharge too far, is REALLY bad and can bring the freezing point of a battery close to that of water.