A stream of people flowed through Amp Lab at Electric Works during an open house Tuesday, admiring the renovated 1940s-era building now equipped with modern features such as video screens, 3D printers and indoor tower gardens.

Beginning next week, 400 Fort Wayne Community Schools students will come to the two-story facility as part of their school day to participate in an innovative entrepreneurship program that will give juniors and seniors opportunities to work with community business partners.

Superintendent Mark Daniel set high expectations when he greeted the more than four dozen people who arrived before Amp Lab’s doors opened to the public.

“You’re going to see something amazing inside these doors,” Daniel said. “I heard the secretary of commerce speak, and he said Indiana needs more innovative thinkers, and it needs entrepreneurship. This is entrepreneurship on steroids.”

Riley Johnson, Amp Lab director, said entrepreneurship is the key of innovation.

“So, we’re excited because kids will really have the opportunity to chase their own dreams,” he said, “but they’ll also have the opportunity to work with real companies, real organizations, and use that entrepreneurial thinking to solve real problems.”

Students visited the site with their families last week, curious about this untraditional learning opportunity. Johnson said students are eager to start.

“That curiosity really shone through Thursday because our staff was on cloud nine the day after, just about the raw, positive emotions that came from students and their families,” Johnson said.

The district’s interest in having a program on the former General Electric campus was first publicized in early 2018. The school board approved a 10-year lease of Building 31 in 2020.

Amp Lab is the first space at Electric Works to open. Other tenants will include Do it Best, Parkview Health, Medical Informatics Engineering, Ruoff Mortgage, Fort Wayne Metals, IU Ventures and Indiana Tech.

“It is going to be a magnet for learning and working,” FWCS board member Steve Corona said before leaving Amp Lab’s grow studio and greenhouse, an area bathed in natural light from windows and skylights.

Alisha Walker, Amp Lab office manager, greeted visitors just inside the entrance, where a photograph of the pre-renovated facility stretches almost floor to ceiling. A beam original to the site hangs above it and is dotted with student and staff signatures from a March signing ceremony.

Walker was previously the principal’s secretary at North Side High School and jumped at the opportunity to join Amp Lab. She was amazed by the turnout during the afternoon open house.

“Everybody wants to see this program,” Walker said.

Visitor Margaret Katter, a retired school administrator, said it gave her chills. It’s not easy to know how to spark futuristic thinking, she said, or to find teachers who can do that.

At Amp Lab, she said, “You leave the same old way at the door.”


Reporter Ashley Sloboda has covered education for The Journal Gazette since 2016. A Fort Wayne native, she has 15 years of experience at newspapers in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.