$2 million historic renovation includes tools of tomorrow

Northville residents Brian Donovan, Dennis Engerer and Chris McDonald will open the Village Workshop this month.


Jan. 15, 2015  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.

Northville Michigan News


Back to the future


The newest step into the future of doing-it-yourself has taken a lesson from the past in Northville where three entrepreneurs are almost ready to open The Village Workshop, where equipment of just about every type and size is available for public use. The newest and latest in futuristic tools will be housed in a recently renovated 26,000 square-foot building originally built in 1875.

Power saws that will cut huge sheets of wood or lathes that can complete the most delicate of micro-miniature wood carving? No problem. Want to experience the capabilities of a $50,000 3-D printer or need a hoist to do car repairs? Welcome.

Need a welding tank to complete your art project or repair a fender on your 1963 Triumph? No problem.

Need to replicate that out-of-date, no longer made part for one of your favorite devices? Use the 3-D printer and in two hours, you’ll be good to go.

Brian Donovan, Chris McDonald and Dennis Engerer, all of Northville, have taken a step into the future with an eye to the way things were done in the past when repairs and prototypes for start-up businesses were usually configured in the family garage or basement. They have renovated the historic Belanger building on Cady Street and are installing more than $1 million in machinery, tools and equipment designed to meet the requirements of just about any project or invention.

Don’t know how to operate a table saw, quilting machine, machine hoist or welding torch? They’ve got you covered. There will be experts available to demonstrate every piece of machinery and explain the proper use to get the desired result. For those who know what they want done, but aren’t too sure about doing it themselves, there will be a job board where the task can be listed so another Village Workshop user, more skilled in the necessary machinery, can offer to help or complete the project.

“These are called ‘Makers’ Spaces’ and they are springing up across the country,” explained Donovan, 50. “When we saw this building, we knew it was a perfect site. Most of these in other states are located in industrial complexes, but people often don’t feel welcome in industrial parks. This is a great spot for a workshop like this. It’s far more accessible and welcoming,” he said.

“Every child is an inventor. Life beats that out of you by high school, people forget about creating,” he said. “This is a place where those inventions can become real.

“If you can conceptualize it, you can build it here.”

McDonald, 41, has extensive experience in setting up equipment and workspaces and has been overseeing equipment installations in the woodworking, metal- working, paint shop and other areas of the renovated building. The three have come up with what they refer to as a COW, or cubicle on wheels, which can house a computer, printer and other office machines along with paperwork, files and supplies. 
“It’s a business office on wheels, and you can rent one or buy one,” McDonald said.

The Village Workshop will also offer classes for business start-ups, including advice and lessons from patent attorneys and business experts.

“We can provide an address and mailbox and you can operate a business right from here,” Engerer, 63, the owner of Northville Physical Rehabilitation, said.

“This is an emerging movement,” Donovan said. “Schools are getting rid of shop classes and young people no longer know how to build things. At the same time, manufacturing is starting to come back to the U.S. By next year, analysts claim it will be as financially sound to manufacture in this country as in China. To do that, we need vocational skills.”

The three agreed that during the more than $2 million (and counting) renovation of the historic building, the subcontractors they hired were working seven-day weeks, because there simply were not enough woodworkers and other skilled craftsman for hire.

“We are going to offer job retraining classes, classes in Computer Aided Design and entrepreneurship,” McDonald said.

Every piece of equipment at The Village Workshop is the latest in technology and safety. The new SawStop table saws will drop the saw blade in a nanosecond to prevent the possibility of injury to the operator.

“Those were invented by three lawyers, and there is no way you can get cut,” McDonald said. “It’s an amazing piece of technology.”

Insurance premiums were a huge expense, but the three philosophically agreed that there are businesses that provide clients the opportunity to jump out of airplanes, too. “Insurance is all part of the cost of the business,” McDonald said.

The three have experimented with the 3-D printer, which will soon be enhanced with a computer program that will eliminate the need for hand-entered specifications into the machine. The Star-Trek-like machine currently produces hard plastic replicas of whatever the user might enter into the program, like the new blade McDonald made for a weed- whacker, “just as a test,” he said with a smile.

The Village Workshop will include a market where supplies for projects can be purchased on-site and a coffee shop where the new owners hope people will come to simply spend some time and share ideas with others working on projects.

Corporate scholarships to The Village Workshop are something the three owners are hoping to offer in the future so that students can come for retaining or trades groups can utilize for training members in the large conference rooms.

Engerer stressed that the facility is open to everyone, men, women and teens.

“This is a place for everybody,” he said. “Inventors, artists, builders or hobbyists. We’ve got the equipment to help you complete your project. Get in here and make something,” Engerer said.

Costs for utilizing The Village Workshop are based on annual or monthly fees on a sliding scale. There are grand opening special membership prices available along with per-visit prices. Members receive discounts on classes and full, unlimited access, depending on the membership level chosen. The Village Workshop is expected to open this month and be fully operational within a few weeks.

“The possibilities here are endless,” Donovan said.


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