Hemlock Area STEM Center - Part 2 (STEM Labs) - Construction Underway!

Four years ago, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Team 5712 “Gray Matter” brought you “Announcing the Hemlock Area STEM Center - Construction Underway!”, a thread highlighting the construction of a new ~5,700sqft facility in Hemlock, MI to be the home to all of Hemlock Public Schools Robotics programs (FLL, FTC, and FRC), as well as a shared space for other teams in the community to take advantage of for build and practice.

Since it’s construction was completed, in addition to our own teams the “Lockwood STEM Center” has hosted dozens of teams, both from around the area and even visiting from further away (shout out to all of you who stopped by before and during MSC this year!), hosted a number of FRC and FTC unofficial “Scrimmage” events, practices, and workshops, and has been a hub for our programs community outreach efforts.

Now, barely four years later, we’ve embarked on a new project we wanted to share with everyone:
The STEM Labs Expansion!

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This expansion basically doubles the size of our existing facility, and will feature:

  • A year-round dedicated build space for our Lego League teams
  • A Computing and Design lab for programming, CAD, and graphic design
  • A 3D Printing Lab (self explanatory)
  • An Electronics Lab for wiring, soldering, projects with Arduinos, and so on
  • A modest “Commons” area and office space
  • An indoor shop-attached storage space (replaces a previous detached shed we used for overflow)
  • And More!

Here are some artist renders of the facility:




As with our initial building, the STEM Labs expansion is entirely privately funded through the generous donations of sponsors in and around the community.
On top of that, the construction on this project has already begun as of last month! Here’s a few pictures of what we’ve got so far:

Early May:


Mid May:

Early June:

Today:

We plan on posting more updates as the project progresses. Feel free to ask any questions you might have about the project!

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How did you get the funding for such a large project?

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I agree, I envy this project and want to look into a possible solution in my area but don’t know how to start bringing up a $500,000 project up to our sponsors.

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Our team has been blessed with a number of great sponsors in our community, Hemlock Semiconductor and Merril Tool being two of the largest, that we’ve maintained great relationships with over the years.

The value of personal relationships also cannot be overstated here (there’s a reason the saying “it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know” exists), and our sponsorship team (in particular our two lead coaches) spend a great deal of time getting to know key contacts at sponsor companies on a more personal level than your typical 15-minute sponsor pitch would allow.

It also helps to have family engagement, many of our sponsors came to us through connections of team members family that either work for or sometimes even run or own sponsor businesses. Having that direct connection where a sponsor can see the effects of a program, helps show them the impact it’s having, not just on their children, but the community as a whole, which makes it easier to ask for support.

Some additional takeaways between this project and our previous one:

  • The first big donation is the hardest, once you can show other companies the project has some major support and is likely to succeed, it’s easier for them to step up themselves. It’s not easy to convince sponsors to be the first one to take a risk on a project, but once there is major support, there’s also a desire to not be left out.

  • Offer incentives. There’s a reason sports venues sell naming rights to their facilities, sponsors look for ways to get their name out there. In our case, both our playing field in our current facility, as well as the various rooms in the new STEM Labs have “Title Sponsors” whose names are prominently visible in the various spaces (see page 7 of this brochure). Additionally lower-teir sponsors will still be recognized both on our website, as well as on a permanent, prominently displayed sponsor board in our facility. Even in-kind donations from some of the contractors on the project qualify for this.

  • Once you have them, keep sponsors engaged. On our robotics team, we have weekly newsletters during the season to highlight to parents, sponsors, and the community what we’re up to; for sponsors, this tells them how their money is being used. On the building side of things, updates on the design and construction project are great, and once the facility is complete, keep them up to date on the activities going on there; again, let them see that their money is being put to good use and getting their name out there at the same time.

  • We have actually found that some sponsors prefer to donate to “capital” projects like buildings and equipment, since such donations are viewed as having a more “permanent” effect than just supporting the team for a season. It might be worth testing the waters with current sponsors on this, you might get responses you don’t expect.

  • For our initial building, we thought it was important to emphasize that the facility would be utilized by multiple teams in the area, not just our school district. An expanded reach is more appealing to sponsors, especially if they happen to be located outside the bounds of your particular town/city.

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I don’t come visit for 2 months, and this is what I miss?! Looking great, y’all! I can’t wait to come up and visit again soon!

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A few more pictures I grabbed today of the completed roof framing. It looks like the rest of the roof materials are on-site already so with any luck we might see the rest of the roof go up this coming week!



Fun fact on that last image, we had the building designed to have dedicated open attic space that we can use for additional storage (plus HVAC and such to save utility space)!

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For any team that can make the time to visit, the Hemlock space is simply an amazing accomplishment of what a fantastic team/community the 5712 people have established. This was our first year hitting it off with them and visiting the space, and boy did they make us get our gears turning on how to more sustainable like them!
Congrats guys, we look forward to seeing it in person again soon enough :smiley:

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It is amazing to see such a great lab space. To prove how small the FRC world can be, I know where Hemlock, MI is without having to resort to a map. My father and his family are from Merrill. If you’ve ever run into someone with the last name of Buckley it was probably my relative. I believe one of my late uncle’s granddaughters was on the Hemlock team a few years ago. Make a run to the Whippy Dip for me.

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Timelapse of progress up till about a week ago (pardon the skips)
SLTL 5-31 to 6-17 360p

Good progress on the roof this week, possibly somewhat limited by hot weather, followed by several days of rain. Interestingly, walking through the building again with the roof on seems to make the space feel a lot larger than my previous visit when it was still just framing, though this probably doesn’t come through in pictures very well.




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Happy 4th all!
Since the last update we’ve seen a few additional changes including:

Most of the external windows have been installed:


Stairs to the “attic” space have been installed, as well as the floor boards. This will be a mostly-unfinished utility space, primarily for the HVAC system, but will also provide a great deal of storage space:


The front “porch” was framed for concrete pouring, and then later poured…


The temporary framing that criss-crossed the inside of the 3D Printing Lab has been removed:

Most of the external insulation and framing is now complete:

Additional work not shown:

  • Door frames have been delivered
  • Additional plumbing materials have been delivered
  • Repainting of the existing shop space to color-match the new planned color-scheme of the new space.
  • Some additional internal framing work in preparation for various fixtures

Next update coming after we get back from IRI!

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It’s been a few weeks, here’s what’s new!

The expansion now has a (mostly) finished roof:


Porch underside finishing:

New awning frames for the existing building windows (the main area has West-facing windows which can be absolutely blinding at some times of the day, these should make that much less of an issue):

Inside, we have electrical and plumbing work underway:


As well as some additional framing and progress on light fixture installations:

Hopefully more updates coming soon!

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