Colby campus to close
April 30, 2010
After this year, The Colby School will be no more.
The board of The Park City Day School has decided it cannot justify spending $400,000 a year to maintain a campus at 3770 State Route 224, said Head of School Charles Sachs in an interview Thursday.
"It was not an educational and not a philosophical decision, but a financial decision," he said.
The choice was difficult emotionally, said Board Chair Kristi Cumming in a press release.
The Colby School and Park City Academy merged into the Park City Day School at the beginning of this year. The original plan was to maintain both campuses.
Sachs said enrollment was outgrowing the academy’s building before the recession hit, and plans already exist for an expanded facility in Pinebrook. But when the two schools agreed to merge back in winter of 2008, the idea was entertained of building anew on the grounds of The Colby School.
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Relinquishing that property means letting that dream die, but the good of the school must be considered in the short term, Sachs explained.
Modular units will have to be installed at the Pinebrook campus to accommodate the students coming over from Colby, and the Park City Day School will likely begin looking for a new campus entirely when the recession ends in two years or less, he said.
The Colby School’s board was the beneficiary of the $4 million mortgage on the former bed & breakfast. That was a good deal at the height of the building boom when the property was valued at around $6 million, Sachs explained.
But few renovations to the facility have been made since The Colby School began in 1998. In addition to $350,000 in annual mortgage payments, renovations were expected to cost over $50,000 per year.
"It’s a charming facility but not a whole lot was invested in it over the years," he said. "We were tempted to look that far down the road, but all our energies need to focus on 2010 and 2011."
With a budget of $2 million, it seemed irresponsible to dedicate so much to a single facility that was only educating children from preschool to second grade out of 180 to 200 students up to the ninth grade. The expenses on the Pinebrook campus are one-third as much, he explained.
The property is not underwater, he said. The school had been making the payments.
There were several guarantors of the loan, and Sachs believes the responsibility for the mortgage will default to them. The press release explained that it will likely be placed on the market this summer.
Sachs said that even though plans to merge the schools began long ago, this was a recent decision after negotiations to refinance the mortgage failed.
"Given the changed economy, we thought we could work with the lender," he said. "We thought the lender had the same desire we had. We were a little naïve."
Modular units are not ideal, but they’re also not a sacrifice, he said. Most are larger than typical classrooms and although inconvenient in the winter, they will be able to support the mission of the school better than some of the indoor spaces.
The economy isn’t the only challenge the independent school faces. The academy and Colby School joined because competition was preventing either from building a critical mass of students to implement the depth and breadth of programming desired.
Now the Park City Day School must compete with the Weilenmann School of Discovery being built near Timberline.
"The advent of a charter school in Park City certainly complicates the landscape," Sachs said.
As an independent school, his facility accepts no government funding and operates as a nonprofit reliant on tuition and philanthropy.
Charter schools market themselves as offering a private-school education for free (paid for with public school funds). But you get what you pay for, Sachs said. He believes anyone who does more than "kick the tires" will see it’s an extension of the public system to which the Park City Day School exists to provide an alternative, Sachs said.