Fort Wayne Community Schools considering regional STEAM school at Electric Works campus on Broadway

February 2nd, 2018

By Kevin Kilbane | News-Sentinel

Fort Wayne Community Schools is considering whether to open a regional STEAM school for grades 6-12 in the Electric Works project in downtown Fort Wayne.

FWCS and Broadway Redevelopment Partners have agreed on the wording of an as-yet-unsigned letter of intent regarding the school district’s participation in Electric Works.

The planned $440 million project would renovate the former General Electric company campus in the 1700 block of Broadway into an innovation and entrepreneurial district including educational components, innovation and office space, residential living and more.

FWCS’ possible participation and how that would be funded still must be approved by the school district’s board of school trustees, said Krista Stockman, FWCS public information officer. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

“We wanted to make it known, if there is a school component in this development, we want to be a part of it,” Stockman said.

The idea also fits well with developers’ vision for the campus.

“Education is a key component to creation of an innovation district,” said Jeff Kingsbury, managing principal at Greenstreet Limited and a partner in RTM Ventures, the latter of which is the master developer of the Electric Works project. “It really is not limited to colleges and universities, it really is the full spectrum.”

The proposed school would be located on the west side of the GE campus, where renovation work is scheduled to begin this summer and to be completed by summer 2020, said Kevin Erb, Electric Works project spokesman.

The Vision

The idea for FWCS involvement in the development grew out of a meeting Kingsbury and others had with FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson as they shared the Electric Works development concept with local community leaders, said Kingsbury, a Fort Wayne native now living in Indianapolis.

Robinson saw an opportunity for students to interact with successful entrepreneurs, a possibility to which some students normally wouldn’t have access, said Kingsbury, whose mother taught at FWCS’ former Hoagland Elementary School.

A study published in December, for example, suggests children are much less likely to become inventors if they are minorities, girls or come from low-income families, according to a December Indianapolis Star article cited by Kingsbury. In addition to discovering the talents of potential future Albert Einsteins, the study said the United States could quadruple its innovation rate if minorities, girls and low-income students had the opportunity to invent at the same rate as white men from high-income families.

The proposed regional school also fits with FWCS plans announced last week to switch the curriculum focus gradually at all of its schools to STEAM or STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Tentative Plans

The proposed regional STEAM school would be open to FWCS students as well as students now attending other public school districts and private and parochial schools in northeast Indiana, Stockman said.

The letter of intent lays out these goals:

  • Respond to the region and state’s demands for a better educated and equipped workforce by offering a blended learning curriculum focused around unique, innovative project-based learning.
  • Fulfill new graduation pathway requirements adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education by giving students project-based, service-based and work-based learning experiences by locating the school in a walkable, mixed-use innovation district.
  • Create partnerships and immersive learning opportunities for students throughout the region to interact with and be mentored by entrepreneurs and innovators.
  • Offer an educational option that attracts and retains high-ability children from around northeast Indiana.
  • Use FWCS staff members’ experience and expertise to create award-winning and nationally-recognized programs of study.
  • Develop a partnership between education and industry that will serve as a model for other areas around the country.

The idea still is in its early stages and many details have yet to be worked out, Stockman said, noting FWCS hasn’t determined how many students likely would attend such a school and how much space it would need for the program.

How It Could Work

The school likely would operate somewhat like FWCS’ Career Academy at Anthis, which allows students from other school districts to attend classes and programs offered there. FWCS and the student’s home school district work out how FWCS will be paid for the student’s time at Anthis, Stockman said.

Stockman wasn’t sure if FWCS Superintendent Wendy Robinson had talked about the proposal yet with superintendents of area school systems.

Stockman said FWCS doesn’t expect a regional school at Electric Works to hurt enrollment in the Career Academy at Anthis or at FWCS magnet schools, which offer special focuses in areas such as communications, math and science, and fine arts.

Details haven’t been finalized yet on the state’s new pathways to graduation, but, “What we do know is students need more options,” Stockman said.

Programs offered at the proposed Electric Works school wouldn’t duplicate what is offered at the Career Academy at Anthis, she said. Some of the Anthis programs are at capacity, as are some of the specialized programs of study at FWCS high schools.

FWCS envisions the proposed regional school serving grades 6-12 because the state’s new graduation pathways push students to decide earlier on a college or career path, Stockman said.

The proposal also would give FWCS a middle school in the middle of the city, she said. Currently, FWCS’ middle schools all are located in suburban neighborhoods except Memorial Park, the fine arts magnet school at 2200 Maumee Ave. east of downtown.

Space Needs

If it proceeds with a proposal to open a STEAM regional school on the west side of the Electric Works campus, FWCS will have plenty of room.

The development team wants to line up anchor tenants before filling in empty space with smaller renters, and FWCS would be an anchor tenant, said Kevin Erb, Electric Works spokesman.

The total project, which includes 18 buildings on the east and west sides of Broadway, contains about 1.2 million square feet of space, Erb said. Phase I, which includes only the west side of the campus, contains about 691,000 square feet of building space.

The developers expect the west campus space to be allocated this way:

  • 224,000 square feet of office space
  • 113,000 square feet of institutional and educational space
  • 83,000 square feet for retail, restaurants and a food hall
  • 83,000 square feet of dedicated innovation space and facilities
  • 82,000 square feet of residential space
  • 31,000 square feet of amenity and recreational space