Fort Wayne Community Schools has signed a letter of intent to explore the establishment of a regional, career-based academy at the Electric Works multiuse redevelopment on the former General Electric campus in downtown Fort Wayne.
It was a natural move for the school district to consider making, said FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman. The developers “knew they wanted some kind of education component. It’s in our district. (Supt. Wendy Robinson) knew it was something right away we wanted to be on board with. If there’s going to be an education component, then we want to be the entity involved.”
The proposed school would include grades six through 12 and would have a career-based focus on science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM). Locating it in the Electric Works complex would give the students a real world component to their education through access to internships and other interactions with the businesses and business leaders in the 1.2 million square-foot complex.
“We know that education today does not live in a vacuum. Students don’t just go to school and learn stuff and graduate and then, ‘oh, here’s the real world,’” Stockman said. “Whether you’re going into college or some sort of business or trade or the military, whatever it might be, we can’t have students in isolation for 12 years and then epect that they’re going to be successful after high school.”
FWCS already works with a number of businesses to provide hands-on learning opportunities through its Career Academy, “to make sure our programs make sense for where (students) want to be after they graduate,” Stockman said. “This opportunity for the STEAM school is one more way that we will integrate that into our district.”
As with its Career Academy, FWCS could offer STEAM school programs to students outside FWCS — from other districts, who are home schooled or who attend private schools — and receive reimbursement from the outside districts and the state.
FWCS was the second educational institution to sign a letter of intent to locate at Electric Works. The first was Indiana Tech, which announced Dec. 19 it wants to lease 10,000 square feet of space in the century-old Building 19, which will include total rentable space of 230,000 square feet.
A big part of the plan for the 1.2 million-square-foot, multiuse project is to create space for innovators and innovative uses. Indiana Tech began talking to Greater Fort Inc. and the Electric Works development team during the summer about how the university might fit into that, said Brian Engelhart, vice president of marketing and communication.
“We’ve continued to grow here and as we looked at their vision for the place and what it could do for Fort Wayne, it really seemed to dovetail with our history of growth over the last few years and be an opportunity for us to maybe do something new and innovative in partnership with an interesting development like that,” Engelhart said.
The planning for the academy is in the very early stages, so FWCS hasn’t yet looked at the possibility of partnering with Indiana Tech on some programs. But it has worked previously with other institutions of higher education; its health careers program with Ivy Tech Community College Northeast and Parkview Health is an example.
Funding for the STEAM school is also a big question mark, “but that goes back to partnerships, with local entities or something bigger, and we don’t know what that means yet,” Stockman said.
RTM Ventures, the consortium planning the GE redevelopment, still has a lot of its own financing to work out. It expects the initial investment required for the first phase of Electric Work, the portion of the campus west of Broadway, to total $213 million. The cost for redeveloping the entire 39-acre campus, which includes 18 buildings on 39 acres, will exceed $400 million.
At a Jan. 30 meeting with the Fort Wayne City Council, RTM said it would need $65 million in public funds to complete the west campus, and another $35 million for the east campus. It is proposing the money come from property tax revenue from a tax increment financing district; the Fort Wayne Legacy Fund, created from the proceeds of the sale of the city’s electric utility, and the Allen County-Fort Wayne Capital Improvement Board.
On Dec. 15, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. approved the award of up to $50 million in Industrial Recovery Tax Credits, which are used as an incentive to stimulate investment in the redevelopment of former industrial facilities requiring significant rehabilitation or remodeling expenses.
The developers are also seeking New Market Tax Credits, Federal Historic Tax Credits and Low Income Housing Tax Credits as part of the financing package.
There is no date yet for the local funding proposal to go before the City Council. But in order to get the $58 million in historic tax credits they are seeking, the developers need to get reach an agreement on the framework of the local funding package by the end of February. The credits were awarded under old rules in effect under President Barack Obama, and are grandfathered in only if construction begins by July.