MIDDLESEX COUNTY, NJ - It used to be called the library, and then the media center, but now a room on the East Brunswick Campus of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools is a “makerspace.”

“We’re calling it The Hub because we want this to be the center of the school,” said Jacqueline Treadwell, media specialist. “We want everyone to come in here to collaborate, to use their skills to create things.

“We feel our school is a giant makerspace,” she added. “We want students to be able to learn from each other.”

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The idea is to make available equipment that may be in the shops of particular career majors but is not in every shop. Retractable electrical extension cords hang from the ceiling to power laptop computers that are stored in a rolling cart. There are 3-D printers, laser engravers, a wide-format printer for posters, and a vinyl cutter. Students asked for sewing machines, so they have been ordered.

“We’ve had a lot of students extremely interested in a lot of things,” Treadwell said.

The renovation began last summer and is ongoing. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Bicsko, who launched the project when he was East Brunswick Tech principal, said construction also has begun on the Piscataway Campus and, eventually, all five MCVTS campuses will have makerspaces.

“The kids are super excited about coming in here and checking things out,” Treadwell said. “Every shop has come in to tour the space. Every time a shop comes in for a tour, I see their eyes light up. It's a lot of fun.”

The design, intended to be flexible, was done with the help of a committee of staff and students. There are tables and chairs, video screens, a lounge area with armchairs, and separate collaboration and work rooms.

“We’ve done a lot of research,” Treadwell said.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a dozen senior dance students from the School of the Arts were using synthesizer kits that fit together like Legos to compose electronic music to go with dance movements they had previously videotaped.

“This is going to be cool,” Treadwell said when they arrived. “I’m not explaining things – go for it.”

“I like the idea that we don’t teach them how to do it,” dance teacher Cleo Mack said. “Young professionals need to be able to solve problems.

“Anybody in the creative fields needs to know how to make things, to be creative problem solvers,” she said. “The point of all of it is to create original content, to create wholly original ideas.”

“I think it’s a great idea because it doesn’t just have stuff for one shop,” said student Angelina Marte of Woodbridge.

“I like the inspiration of it because I get explore other art forms that I don’t necessarily get in my shop,” said Shelby Browning of North Brunswick.

“It definitely opens up your mind to think about other things,” said Stephanie Covino of Woodbridge.

Treadwell said a recent collaboration involved computer-assisted drafting and carpentry students. Their project was to create a three-dimensional model of the house that carpentry students are working on behind the school building.

Student “technicians” are being recruited to assist in The Hub, with the call going out for coders, crafters, photographers and others with particular talents. More than 50 students have applied. 

“We’re making a website so students and staff can see what we have and what we’re working on,” Treadwell said.

Oh, and there will be books, once they’re unpacked.

“It’s still a library,” Treadwell said.

The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District, the first full-time county vocational school district in the nation, has campuses in East Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway, Perth Amboy and Woodbridge. More information is available at www.mcvts.net.