Robots invade the MINT with Rutland expansion

The building now has sections for woodworking, pottery, a variety of glasswork, textiles, metal machining, welding, printing and metal engraving.

An artisan at the MINT in Rutland in October puts the final touches on a mini-pot. Photo by Camila Van Order González

By Camila Van Order González

RUTLAND — The MINT is this city’s multifaceted makerspace, supplying the tools and materials necessary for almost any project an artisan wants to pursue. This July, the nonprofit expanded its Quality Lane space from 14,000 square feet to 22,000 square feet.

Part of the expansion includes a playing field to train and practice robots — ones used by high school teams across the country in tournaments like the FIRST Robotics Competition. The events involve students pitting robots in some sort of physical game. 

“This past year, we had to take traffic cones and little inflatable cubes and score them on different height platforms,” explained Jacob Jepson, a freshman on FIRST Robotics Competition Team 2370, the high school–level robotics team based in Rutland. Last season the team went to a national competition in Houston and placed 15th out of 70 in its division.

The competitions take up a lot of space, since the robots are about the size of washing machines. FRC Team 2370 had been using the Stafford Technical Center for a long time, but they recently reached capacity in that space.

Dan Roswell, president of the team, hopes the MINT’s expansion will “create a space where all teams in Vermont will be able to practice … collaborate, work and share ideas with each other.”

The MINT also hosts programs for younger kids interested in STEAM projects — meaning science, technology, arts and math, a widening of the more common term STEM. Most recently, they built Bee-Bots, small robots that mimic the buzzing patterns of a bee.

But the MINT does not just work with robotics –– the building now has sections for woodworking, pottery, a variety of glasswork, textiles, metal machining, welding, printing and metal engraving. The space constantly evolves to accommodate artisans’ and builders’ needs.

“This place is community and relies upon the larger community,” said Kim Griffin, the nonprofit’s executive director.

A large part of the building’s eclectic collection of machines and tools was brought in through donations. Heritage Family Credit Union gave the group a kiln and pottery wheels. Casella Waste Systems donated its laser cutter when the MINT was just starting out.

Other machines in the space are over 100 years old, like its beloved vintage printing press named Pearl that makes greeting cards. Artists often use the high-tech laser engraver to create designs before stamping each sheet, one by one, using Pearl’s foot pedal. “We’re using state-of-the-art technology to add to the … vintage technology that we’re uplifting and reusing,” said Morgan Over, the MINT’s director of operations.

Pearl, an antique printing press, at the MINT in Rutland recently. Photo by Camila Van Order González

Over is working on a few projects at once, just as the MINT’s artists often do. She’s constructing a xylophone to place in Rutland’s Depot Park, next to an existing xylophone she also installed. The new xylophone will be lower to the ground, aimed to make it easier for children and people in wheelchairs to use. She is also searching for an adjustable mannequin for their textiles section and rigging a giant three-dimensional mural on the MINT building’s facade.

“We are a skeleton crew,” Griffin admitted. “We often feel so stretched thin because we are so excited.”

The MINT will unveil the ambitious 17 feet tall, 16 feet wide mural by the artist LMNOPI on Nov. 14. On that same date, the nonprofit plans to host the Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region annual meeting. “It’s an exciting but heavy lift for the MINT to be undertaking,” said Over.

Folks at the MINT say they strive to make everyone feel included. The space has hosted children as young as 5 years old and retirees rediscovering old passions in the same sections of the building.

The MINT began as an idea from a father and son team, Peter and Rick Gile, owners of a business that manufactures farm equipment. The two had extra machines and would let folks use them, according to a 2017 Seven Days story. As it turned out, there was a demand for a communal space to use machinery too bulky and expensive to keep at home. In 2017, the MINT opened — the Rutland region’s largest makerspace. 

“Then it just kept growing organically and attracting more nerds and more makers and curious humans,” Griffin said.

The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.