Fortress Academy renovations to get underway

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

Construction crews got to work last week on converting the former Western National Bank near downtown York City into a coding school and technology hub.

Demolition and external cleanup on the property at 301 W. Market St. was slated to begin June 26, Fortress Academy founder and CEO John McElligott said. 

A rendering of the exterior of The Fortress, a 301 W. Market St. in downtown York, once construction is complete.

Once crews remove some of the existing drywall and restore the building’s historic support columns, workers from Campbell Associates in Springettsbury Township will build two classrooms — as well as several offices and labs that could be rented out to small tech start-ups or other local business — inside the  school.

The project does not require extensive rebuilding or renovations, and McElligott said he expects the project to be completed in four or five months’ time. 

The Fortress Academy will lead 12-week programs in computer coding and robotics. Eight to 16 people will be accepted into each program, which costs $8,495 per student, McElligott said.

The academy will soon begin accepting applications to enroll in the programs, he said. 

White House recognizes York tech initiative

Renovations: The former bank was donated to the YMCA of York County in the late 1970s and has been used for a baseball academy, weightlifting and racquetball. Though it has been underutilized for decades, the building’s history provides a blank canvas for the conversion project, McElligott said. 

“The whole inside has essentially been gutted” for the building’s previous uses, making it “extremely easy to do the kind of renovations we want to do,” he said. 

The historic architectural style of the building is on trend with many new technology start-up spaces, he said, and the former bank’s vault will remain to serve as a conference room.

A rendering of the completed interior of The Fortress, at 301 W. Market St. in downtown York. 3TC Robotics is hoping to transform the former Western National Bank building into a programming and robotics training center.

The process of opening a coding school in York City has been somewhat protracted. McElligott originally hoped to open the Fortress Academy in early 2016, but opening dates have been pushed back several times since.

Renovations and construction were delayed slightly because academy officials had to obtain the proper permits and approvals from the city’s Historical Architectural Review Board to repair the building’s historical elements, McElligott said.

Programming and robotics training center, The Fortress, hoping to open in WeCo

Tech boom: Aside from the classrooms and office space for other start-ups, academy officials are also looking to create a “makerspace,” where local manufacturers can learn and embrace emerging technologies.

When plans for the Fortress Academy were revealed two years ago, McElligott said there was “a certain level of disbelief” from many in the area who did not realize that a technology-and-robotics teaching center could create numerous employment opportunities in York.

Now that robotics and technology headlines are regularly splashed across the front pages of some the country’s leading publications, more people are embracing the idea of using technology to improve York’s once-booming manufacturing industry, McElligott said, calling  Fortress Academy “York’s first step” toward a tech-industrial boom.