Construction has started on Fort West, a new independent learning center, located on the corner of Albany Street and West Avenue.
The project, an offshoot of education non-profit, Practical Play, will house programs that focus on learning life skills.
“(It would have) the fundamental learning experiences of humanity, food, music, culture, building stuff, mechanics,” said David Harter, 29, program facilitator at Practical Play and building owner. “The things people like to learn about, that's the infrastructure that I'd like to see here.”
Harter bought three abandoned houses at the site two years ago. He plans to use two of the buildings for Fort West, while the third will become an apartment complex. Since then, he’s spent a year and a half on what he calls emergency stabilization, including replacing rotted out structures and outdated electrical wiring and repairing holes in the floor.
"You have to tear stuff down before you can start to rebuild,” he said. “It's like a garden, you can't make a garden without tilling the soil."
Now, he and volunteers from Practical Play and around the community are focusing on construction to transform the building into Fort West.
Funds for the approximately $280,000 project come from Harter’s personal savings and from donations. Most of the work being done by volunteers, though Harter hires outside contractors when building codes require it.
He said he hopes to have Fort West completed in three years, though he expects the apartments to be ready in the spring. By Autumn Evans and Melissa Zimmermann