Hannah Eason, News Editor
Mackenzie LaBar, Contributing Writer
It may seem like a massive, gray warehouse from the outside, but the 60-year-old building on a site once used for trolley repairs is now a design space for engineering organizations on campus.
After a $610,000 property acquisition in 2017 of the former Grubbs’ Auto Service mechanic garage, VCU’s College of Engineering opened its new Maker Garage this semester for engineering students involved in design-related intercollegiate projects.
The garage gives engineering students a central location for group mechanical and design-related project work. The building is equipped with conference rooms and workspaces to allow groups to hold professional meetings. The College of Engineering website calls the space a “fully equipped machine shop with modern precision tooling and machinery.”
The site of 12 W. Cary St. dates as far back at 1889. According to VCU News, the location was home to carpenter and contractor William Gibson, who died in 1903 after contributing to the construction of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. By the 1900s, trolley cars ran close to the property, and the alley behind the house was connected to a streetcar maintenance bay. In the 1960s, the building was torn down, and the new structure later became Grubbs’ Auto Service.
Charles Cartin, director of the Maker Garage and faculty member at the College of Engineering, says the space provides “real-world experience” for students by teaching the effects of time and money in designing a project.
“If they take the time to take the classes and take the training for it, it also opens many doors out there in the real world because it gives them practical, hands-on experience,” Cartin said. “So it lets them have that curiosity to make something creative.”
One of the most notable organizations utilizing the new workspace is Hyperloop at VCU, a student organization that develops ideas for passenger and freight transportation. It competed in Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2018 and was one of 18 teams worldwide — and one of nine teams from the United States — to advance to the final at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
According to SpaceX’s website, the competition’s judging criteria were based entirely on the Hyperloop Pod’s “maximum speed with successful deceleration (i.e. without crashing).”
VCU senior Arthur Chadwick, the organization’s founder and president, spoke about the industrially “disruptive” capacity of Hyperloop. Chadwick said the vision for the Hyperloop is to transport people and cargo at speeds up to 700 mph, “drastically decreasing” travel time.
“As a faster and potentially more affordable and safer mode of transportation … a Hyperloop system has the potential to disrupt the transportation industry,” Chadwick said.
The garage has plans to open up to an even wider array of potential users, as plans to offer training and safety curriculums to certify students of other focuses, as well as returning alumni, may be in the works.
Boris Solomonov, lab manager and professor for Maker Garage, ensures projects completed inside the workspace are done “right, legal and safe.”
The courses Solomonov teaches include three modules, starting with safety and hand tools in Innovation Shop Training I and ending with “real machining” in Innovation Shop Training III.
The classes, which are in the engineering curriculum, are classified as “Short Course Instructional Method” classes.
The Maker Garage is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.