Last Wednesday night, Chris Meyer and Heather Wentler were hard at work renovating the building that will be the new home of Madison maker space Sector67. Meyer is the founder of Sector67 and married to Wentler, co-founder of the Doyenne Group.
It was getting late, but Meyer wanted to finish one last task, so Wentler went home, brushed her teeth and started getting ready for bed.
Then she got a call that there had been an explosion at the site and Meyer was being loaded into an ambulance.
Meyer is still hospitalized, but on his way to recovery. And now the Madison community is rallying around him and his goal to make sure the new location for Sector67 is finished on time.
Founded in 2010, Sector67 is a nonprofit organization providing classes, resources and equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters and welders for “anyone interested in making things.”
Located at 2100 Winnebago St., the organization has been looking for a new home for years. At one point, it was slated as an anchor tenant of the StartingBlock project. Right now, about 40 percent of the budget goes to rent, the group's website says.
“The whole plan ever since Chris has started Sector67 was to find a permanent location,” Wentler said.
Sector67 was running out of space even before its building was slated to be demolished and redeveloped into a cohousing development and new home for Madison Circus Space.
In February, Sector67 purchased a building at 56 Corry St. Construction on the building, including the addition of a second story, was led by Meyer. Described as “the heartbeat of this massive undertaking,” he acted as contractor and worked long days with a crew of volunteers.
John Neis, executive managing director of Venture Investors, is a friend of the couple. The two have been living with Neis and his wife during construction, which will add an apartment for Meyer and Wentler. Neis described Meyer’s rigorous commitment, leaving before 8 a.m. and coming home at midnight every day of the week.
“He draws the minimum in compensation to survive until he can achieve his plan for the new space. He is relentlessly focused on his plan, where he and the business can thrive, and is executing on it,” Neis wrote.
The goal was to have what Meyer called a “heated box” by Nov. 1, with all of the structural pieces of the building completed, Wentler said.
Then came the propane explosion, which Wentler said “was totally a freak thing,” not due to unsafe practices or the placement of the tank.
A Sector67 member was scrolling through Facebook and noticed a post about an explosion in the neighborhood. He went to the new site to check it out, arrived at the same time as the fire trucks, and called Wentler.
“(Meyer)’s been in nothing but good spirits since this whole thing happened,” Wentler said. “He is showing through his leadership how he wants to move forward with this.”
While Meyer recovers, Sector67 is recruiting volunteers and funds for “day-to-day oversight, engineering expertise and manual labor that would have normally come from Chris.”
"Now everybody has to step up and fill that gap, and it’s like filling the gap of three or more people!" Neis said. "We just want Sector to thrive through this process and be bigger and better than ever when he’s fully back to 100 percent."
The explosion didn’t damage the structure of the building, said Justin Beck, a member of Sector67. The walls were “blowfn out a bit,” but they’ve already been gutted.
Scott Hass, a board member of Sector67, has stepped into Meyer’s construction leadership role, and isn’t sure they’ll hit the Nov. 1 target, but is reaching out to local construction companies to help with the work.
“One of the beautiful things about Sector67 is the fantastic community of creative people,” Hass said. “We could never replace Chris but we are pulling together to support his mission and vision.”
Wentler said she’s overwhelmed with how the whole Madison community has rallied around Meyer.
“It brings tears to my eyes, and a lot of gratitude,” she said. “People we don’t really know have been reaching out and saying, ‘What can I do to help?’”
“That just makes our hearts overflow,” she said.