EAGLE RIVER - Carter Heller considers one room in his high school a home away from home. The Northland Pines junior spends most class periods -- and even district in-service days -- using the 3-D printers, vinyl cutters, and other machinery in the fab lab. Tuesday morning, Heller learned how his second "home" is about to grow thanks to a $25,000 grant.
"Everything about it makes you want to be in here," Heller said. "It allows our capabilities as a school to expand a lot."
On a day the governor declared "Fab Lab Day," representatives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Gov. Scott Walker, and other state leaders traveled the state announcing 21 fab lab grants, which totaled nearly $500,000.
Northland Pines opened its fab lab earlier this school year. Pines Tech Ed. teacher Tim Lehman says his school plans to buy a new CNC router to expand the lab's capabilities.
"We want this to be kind of a hub for our community too and that's only going to grow," Lehman said.
Sixty-nine districts across the state applied for Wisconsin's second round of fab lab grants. Northland Pines, Antigo, Lakeland Union, Ashland, Florence, Phelps, Phillips, and Rhinelander all landed grants.
"We went and talked to the governor about this initiative, we talked to Speaker Vos about this initiative and ultimately here we are," State Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said after the Northland Pines ceremony. "It's pretty exciting to me to have six fab labs in my Assembly district, the most of any rep in the state, as far as I know."
This batch of grants requires districts to make the labs open to the public and match the grants they receive. The Vilas County Economic Development Corporation decided it would cover much of Northland Pines' matching funds, contributing one-third the first year, half the second, and two-thirds the third year.
"Keeping young students involved and active up here in the Northwoods is critical for our future," VCEDC Project Manager Barry McLeane said. "We want people to be able to do many, many different things here."
That was a similar goal heard about 25 miles away in Rhinelander Tuesday afternoon.
Rhinelander High School welcomed Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch as the district received its $25,000 grant. This marks the second fab lab grant Rhinelander received in the last 12 months.
"This is one of the blessings of having so many fab labs in the Northwoods," Kleefisch said. "It brings an entire community together around their K-12 public school."
Students showed Kleefisch around their new lab, which sprouted this school year from an old storage room. Rhinelander plans to use its new grant money to add more 3-D printers and scanners.
"Far too often, students graduate from high school really not knowing what they want to do and, worse yet, unprepared for entering into employment right after high school," RHS Principal Dave Ditzler said. "We want to do something about that. If we can dream it and design it, we'll be able to create it."
Ditzler says his school wouldn't have been able to make its additions without the grant funding.
"I think you go into grant writing expecting to get it," Ditzler said. "We needed this very badly. This grant changes things for Rhinelander."
Kleefisch agreed, noting fab lab grants will change everyone's lives in the future, whether they're in school or not.
"Those essentials [ranging from roads to public safety workers] that people begin to depend on all are funded by taxpayers," Kleefisch said. "But how do you create a taxpayer? By creating a worker. How do you create a worker? By helping a student get college- and career-ready."
Governor Walker's budget proposal for the next two years includes another $1 million in fab lab grant funding.