Until recently, the land at the southwest corner of Coldwater and Wallen Roads in Fort Wayne was underutilized. Now, dirt has been moved, a building has emerged, and construction will be complete this summer. Junior Achievement (JA) has been active in Northern Indiana since 1952, offering economic education and learning experiences for student participants from kindergarten through high school. Most people know JA through the classroom volunteers who have taught them about needs versus wants, taxes, and government—but Junior Achievement is so much more. In addition to their classroom education programs, JA sees thousands of students participate in their Finance Park and BizTown programs every school year.
As our community has grown, so has the need for JA’s Finance Park and BizTown programs. JA needed to expand their facilities and we are lucky enough to be a part of the changes. The brand new 36,500 square foot facility will not only house Finance Park and BizTown, but will also include JA of Northern Indiana’s corporate offices, as well as amenities new to JA, including an Entrepreneurial Center, Education Atrium, and a few virtual reality kiosks.
Currently, BizTown and Finance Park are housed in two separate facilities. While they are close to one another, the separation is inconvenient for staff and students. Finance Park currently runs 13 storefronts in 11,000 square feet, serving about 9,800 students per school year. BizTown runs 14 businesses in 5,200 square feet, seeing over 10,000 students, 2,000 volunteers, and 400 teachers through its doors annually. In the new facility, both BizTown and Finance Park will each have 18 storefronts, with the ability for Finance Park to reach over 10,000 students annually, and BizTown expected to exceed the 11,000 mark.
Because of their involvement in the community, it was important for JA to include the community in the design of their new facility. While many public and private donors have made this project possible, there are 36 donors that are crucial to ensuring that both programs happen every day. Those familiar with BizTown or Finance Park know they both have unique storefronts in their current space. Each storefront in Finance Park represents a different expense category, ranging from grocery to insurance to clothing, that participants have to research, budget for, and shop for while in that business during their simulation.
Within JA BizTown, the storefronts represent a sampling of businesses reflected from our own community. While certain businesses in BizTown are staples (for example, a bank, restaurant, or city hall), they also have flexibility for additional storefronts. The new facility will include storefronts for entertainment, innovation, and building trades, to name a few. Each of the 36 storefront donors are committed to a three-year “lease” on their storefront in either BizTown or Finance Park. Each of these 36 donors has been involved in the design process of their space – from initial design meetings determining what they hope students will gain from their time in the space, to choosing paint colors and flooring materials.
JA’s focus on keeping their donors involved from the beginning was important to keep them feeling connected to the space in addition to building excitement and anticipation for the 2019-2020 school year, when they’ll be open for “business.”
As the project nears its completion – paint is on the walls and flooring is being installed – the excitement continues to grow for both donors all staff at JA. Although construction is anticipated to be complete in mid-May, that’s only the beginning for the storefront buildouts. In the coming months, palm trees will emerge, half of a car will roll in, a utility pole will rise above the walls, and a crane will be raised.
Design Collaborative is proud to be part of such an inclusive community project. We look forward to watching Junior Achievement grow future leaders of Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana!
Associate, Construction Engineer