By Melanie Lekocevic
Capital Region Independent Media
RAVENA — The Innovation Station held its grand opening Sunday, giving the community its first look at the new technology hub for local kids.
The Innovation Station is the brainchild of Rick and Kate Robertson, who have been running FIRST Lego League teams out of their garage for years. This year, they launched an initiative to open an Innovation Station, a place where local children can explore STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and find their passions.
The Innovation Station is located in the basement of the Congregational Christian Church on Main Street, in a space that formerly housed the Boy Scouts. The Robertsons and a team of volunteers and donors first began meeting in February to conceptualize the project and held the grand opening Sunday.
The 60 youngsters who are already signed up for the Innovation Station will have the opportunity to learn, explore and compete in STEM contests, starting with FIRST Lego League this fall and winter.
In the future, the group will expand to different areas, including computer science, programming, technology — the sky is the limit.
“I hope this gives kids who are not necessarily into sports an opportunity to compete in a different way that appeals to them,” Kate Robertson said. “I am super excited — this has been a lot of work and a lot of people coming together for it. I am thrilled about the progress and also about what is to come — we are looking for different programming in the spring, like computer programming and CAD classes.”
CAD is an acronym for computer-aided design, a way of generating 2D and 3D models on the computer.
The Innovation Station now has a large main room and four classrooms. The robotics team from the high school will use a section of the main room for their work, with younger students working in the classrooms. The facility will teach and train students in pre-kindergarten through high school.
Much of the work on the facility was done by volunteers, including computers donated by Quantum Engineering and GE Elfun, a group of retired GE employees who refurbish and donate computers to schools and nonprofit organizations, Robertson said.
Teddy Reville from Performance Industrial, and an RCS board of education member, donated all the flooring materials and labor, Brotz, LLC did all the electrical wiring, and State Telephone donated free Wifi for the next six months. Plug Power is a founding partner of the Innovation Station.
Other donors include the RCS Community Library, Rail to River Brewing, National Bank of Coxsackie, Northeast Shared Services, Gabler Realty, Point Source Group, BMW Fabrication, Acuity Brands, Comalli Electric, Mueller’s Automotive, Stewart’s Shops, Redwood Landscape, County Line Self Storage and CTS Comalli Group, Inc.
Sunday’s grand opening featured elected officials, Innovation Station leadership, and a huge turnout from the community showing support for the project.
Innovation Station president Rick Robertson was pleased to see so many people working to bring the project to fruition.
“There is a great deal of enthusiasm and energy from the students and families who are involved and we’re grateful for the tremendous support from our community,” Rick Robertson said. “To have come this far in seven months is pretty incredible and we’re excited about what the future holds. We’re looking forward to working with our founding partner, Plug Power, and implementing a variety of programs for students in the coming months.”
Training future generations of innovators is key, said Matt Grattan, workforce development manager at Plug Power.
“We’re very excited and very pleased to be able to support the Innovation Station,” Grattan said. “We need projects like this to spur on the innovation and the idea of creation. We need facilities like this that are really providing some of that technology and innovation-oriented discovery that piques the curiosity of young minds and makes them want to go and continue to change the world. That’s what we’re trying to do at Plug Power — utilizing green hydrogen and fuel cell technology to deharmonize a lot of the world’s biggest challenges. It’s important to us to sponsor our community.”
Innovation Station board member Bryan Rowzee said kids can develop a love for the lucrative STEM fields at an early age.
“This is an opportunity to introduce kids to the skills that can lead to good jobs down the road,” Rowzee said. “It’s learning about technology in a fun way.”
To become a sponsor of the Innovation Station, contact Marlene McTigue at the RCS Community Business Association at 518-545-8441.
McTigue said several members of the RCSCBA donated to the effort.
“It’s so great to see the support that this community has for this project,” McTigue said. “This is a great investment in the children of our community and it’s wonderful to be here today to see so many people who recognize that. Special thank you to our business association members Mueller’s Automotive, Rail to River Brewing, Quantum Engineering, National Bank of Coxsackie, RCS Community Library and Gabler Realty.”