Moving a large Makerspace and Hackerspace
25 January 2022 at 4:00 pm
Just two days before the first Covid lockdown in Norway, me and Bitraf’s manager Thomas Winther signed a contract for a fantastic space - the new home of the Bitraf Makerspace and Hackerspace. Little did we know how rough this pandemic would become and how the electricity prices would drain our economy beyond anything we’ve experienced.
Since Bitraf was started in 2012, we’ve moved three times. The last move was 5 years ago and at that time we only had about 150 members moving from 450m2 to 750m2. The main move was done in two weekends and we only had to carry stuff 100 meters (300 feet) since the new space was just around the corner. This time it was different. We had almost 300 members to do the move from our 950m2 into a massive 1260m2 (13562 sq/feet)!
Signing up for such a big space in the midst of a pandemic may seem unwise, but spaces like this are not available on a day to day basis. This is a classic industrial building along the Akerselva river. The neighbours are Strykejernet (art school), KEM (art supplies shop), Blå (classic Oslo concert venue), Ingensteds (Lovely riverside bar & event space) as well as a youth club and several band practice rooms. It’s a street full of flare and fun and it’s so picturesque that Tripadvisor has it as a spot to visit when in Oslo. And last but not least - the street has it’s own Sunday street market where artisans sell whatever they make - perfect for many of our members! So yeah… We basically had to do this and we started the process long before #COVID19 was ever heard of.
Planning and financing
Thomas, Nikolai, Yoshi and I started the planning just after we signed the contract. Thomas set up an extensive budget that clearly showed that we’d be bankrupt just a few months after moving in - despite having quite a solid bank account. The biggest problem was that we needed to pay a much larger deposit than we had for our current space - just above 1.4 million NOK ($155,000). How do you borrow such an amount when you only own a few machines as security? The best interest we could find was 7.8% in banks, but we (the Bitraf board members) would then have to sign the debt on our private properties. Not very tempting.
The solution was simply to ask our members, but it took a long time for us to understand this. They trust us and at 3.0% interest, they got 2.8% more than they could get from the bank. We also did a successful crowdfunding to help collect money for a part of the deposit. For this, we got help from Prospera - a non profit that offers consulting hours to other non profits. They helped making the crowdfunding a success. The main reward for the crowdfunding was glasses engraved using Bitraf’s laser cutter and rotating attachment. I later spent two weekends engraving all the reward glasses.
With the deposit solved, we started working on other means of funding. Nikolai wrote two applications for grants from Sparebankstiftelsen and both of these were granted! We also did another and larger crowdfunding campaign based on the experiences from the first. The goal for this was to collect money for some the expenses we knew would come such as hiring electricians, plumbers and others that we could not do ourselves. Koka made a great video for the campaign and it went really well!
We not only collected 200k for the expenses, but also expanded this to cover some long awaited tools such as a band saw, embroidery machine and updated lab gear. With all this, the budget started to look quite good. The worst part was that we had to pay for a month overlap and this took a lot of our funds.
Preparations for the move
Before the move, I basically took a full month off from consulting to help out with the perparations. The existing tenant of the building was Høyskolen Kristiania (where I also lecture) and we made a deal where they would let us take over the building two months before the move was going to happen. This allowed us time to solve some major infrastructure things before filling the place. One such thing was scraping and painting the roofs which did indeed look bad. Many members donated long evenings for making the roofs look better.
The 35+ office users would move their desks the week before the main move, so the first priority was to get all the offices ready. Torfinn got the network up and running early and he and Martin planned the move of our critical infrastructure (servers, door locks, access systems). I found a place that sold second hand glass walls at a good price and with the help of a Bitraf member that could borrow a truck with a crane, we got that into the new space.
In the following month, Yoshi and I would set up these walls bit by bit. We anchored them to the roof and floor, plus added walls where needed.
Setting up the glass walls took a lot of time and at the same time Thomas, Nikolai and others worked on other parts of the building. Trygve, Omega and other members started working on an updated version of P2K16 (our membership system) to close bugs and prepare it for the move.
Our plan called for the move to be divided over three weekends. The first would be to pack things down. The second was to do the actual move. The third was to clean out the old space. This looked so smooth in theory, but in reality we did not get enough members helping out at any of these weekends. Our members are generally really good with attending a Dugnad, so I think this must have been due to Covid? Those that attended were all smiles.
The lack of members helping out lead to the Packing weekend going well, but we just didn’t get as far as we had hoped. The coming moving weekend, we got about half of the things moved. There were lots of ppl helping out, but we could easily have been twice as many. During this weekend, we also concluded that we were unable to move some of the largest machines (lathe, laser cutters, Pick’n’place, industrial sewing machine) so we had to find a professional firm with special gear to do this.
Seeing them hoist these heavy machines between wires and into our third floor stair well was quite impressive. It only took 4 hours to move all our heavy machines, but it cost us 38k of our moving budget. The third and last weekend saw even less members attending. This was where we would wash down and clean out everything.
If we didn’t get out before the last day of September, we would have to pay another month of rent. If we didn’t clean things well enough, our landlord would demand more than the 150k ($16.8k) we had agreed on in settlement. Since I’m on the board, I worked relentlessly day and night to make sure we hit this deadline and many others did as well. I logged 30-40k steps per day on my Oura ring for almost a month.
This did unfortunately cause some burnout from many volunteers and it wasn’t good for the rest of us either. I’m not sure how we could have done this better and Covid must have affected this, but alltogether it wasn’t a high point for us. It took many months for some of the members to recover. I’m not really complaining here. Lots of members and friends came by to help. I’m just stating the fact that we were not enough ppl.
In the middle of the move, we got a really nice donation from our friends at NoIsolation - an IoT/social startup that had formerly rented office space with us. They wanted to donate their entire electronics lab setup with a Mantis microscope, soldering gear, test gear and lots of nice stuff. Their thinking was that now that we’d have such a big and dedicated space, they could just as well come to us to do their prototyping? Elias and I pulled it all along on a cart across Grunerløkka to the new surfacemount lab space. Big thanks to Karen for thinking about us!
With all our stuff moved to the new space and me having no income for a month, I had to take a break to work on the Candy Marble Run project. I still helped out some nights to get some things finished, but it was good to take a little break.
So what’s the status now? There’s still lots missing, but we’re really getting there! Thomas did a very nice writeup on the state in November. Since then, more rooms are finished. Both laser cutters are up and running, the CNC works, 3D printing room and SMutCave (smd workshop) is operational and all close to finished.
There’s also been some events in the new Bio lab and textile room as well. It took some time, but now there’s also lots of things happening. I kickstarted these after finishing the DENT project by getting the main lab area ready for workshops and doing four consecutive weeks with workshops on Arduino, Motor control, Xmas soldering and how to use a multimeter (together with Simen). Yoshi did lots of workshops too and now Mattias is doing lots as well, so things are finally moving - despite covid.
Some things surprised us during the move. Electricians and plumbers are more expensive than we thought. These are expenses that you just have to pay to get things working, but 300k ($33500) was a “tad” more than we expected? The moving of big machines was also not budgeted, but we now know that we didn’t hit many of the estimates on construction and refurbishing. We spent more on paint, lumber and gear than estimated. The members have done a fantastic job and every day we inch forward to something resembling finished.
We love the area, the neighbours and the space! The upcoming plans are now to finish the Chemistry room, the paint booth, the drying room, the wet workshop and the main workshop with subworkshops for wood, metal and hot jobs, but I’ve not been able to spend much time on that. I’ve worked with Thomas the last month to solve the most immediate problem at Bitraf - the electricity prices that are pretty much killing us.