Ivy Tech Community College Northeast announced plans Friday to take over day-to-day operations of a south-side public safety training center that had lagged behind expectations and become a financial burden for the city.
Ivy Tech will expand its presence at the $27 million Public Safety Academy of Northeast Indiana, in essence creating a new satellite campus to serve students not only from south Fort Wayne but also from surrounding counties, Ivy Tech and city officials said. The facility will be renamed “Public Safety Academy: Ivy Tech South Campus.”
The new arrangement will allow Ivy Tech to take over most of the academy's space and operating costs while still providing Fort Wayne police and firefighters with access to the training facility.
“A Fort Wayne built for success means we are constantly transforming our strengths into competitive assets,” Mayor Tom Henry said in prepared remarks.
But to critics, the academy had become more of a liability than an asset, as the city poured hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax subsidies into the complex each year just to keep up with day-to-day costs.
This year, the city earmarked $400,000 in county economic development income taxes, or CEDIT – which otherwise would likely have gone toward street work or neighborhood projects – to keep the academy open, and even more in previous years. The city has paid another $225,000 annually to rent space in the building.
Envisioned as a self-sustaining facility that would draw a wide range of tenants, the safety academy never lived up to hopes that it would run largely on its own revenue stream.
City Council President Tom Smith, R-1st, said taxpayers would benefit by getting the building off the city's ledger – though Ivy Tech also is taxpayer-funded as a state college – but he also said the new plans would move the academy closer to meeting its potential.
“As a regional public safety academy, it really turned out to be a white elephant,” Smith said. “We've put all this money into it, and now it finally looks like it's going to live up to its full potential.”
The new agreement would give Ivy Tech rights to own the 133,000-square-foot academy in 2021, after the expiration of the original bond that financed the building. Until then, Ivy Tech will lease the entire building, with the city paying to use 38,000 square feet of space for continued police and fire training.
Ivy Tech-Northeast Chancellor Jerrilee Mosier said the academy was appealing because of its south-side location, putting the college near students from southeast Fort Wayne, as well as Adams, Wells and Huntington counties.
The new Ivy Tech campus will be the only major college presence in Fort Wayne's south side and could bring hundreds of new students to the complex. The college has been involved with the safety academy since 2007 but next year will broaden its offerings there, adding as many as 20 course sections with 15 to 20 students each, Mosier said.
City officials hope an influx of students also will give the south side a welcome economic boost. The academy is near Southtown Centre, a focal point of efforts to spur more development.
“It's a real economic boost for this side of town, which has been struggling for quite some time,” Mayor Henry said of Ivy Tech's plans.