Volume 20, Number 40 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 29 - October 5, 2010
New space costly for Church St. school
BY Aline Reynolds
Enrollment at Tribeca’s Church Street School for Music and Art is up by 20 percent this year, tuition payments are pouring in and the school has more space than ever. But while 85 percent of its revenue stems from tuition, the school, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is now one million dollars in debt.
Last fall, Church Street School expanded into two-and-a-half floors in 72 Warren Street, the adjacent building, where two art classrooms and eight soundproof teaching booths were created. Construction of the space began in August 2008, at the peak of the economic recession, and lasted several months longer than anticipated. The delays in renovations prohibited the space to be used for programming and forced the school to take out loans in order to make rent.
“It’s like rent went up three times, but we couldn’t increase our income,” said Betsy Kerlin, director of programs and development.
Financial support from outside sources slowed considerably: the school failed to receive $200,000 in funding from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs until this year, even though they were promised the money two years ago, according to school administrators. And donations from foundations and individuals dwindled. The school is now tapping into its operation budget to pay down the debt.
“When all is said and done, we finally ended up with a beautiful, newly renovated space, and a debilitating drain on operations,” said Lisa Ecklund-Flores, the school’s co-founder and executive director.
Ecklund-Flores testified at a City Council hearing on September 15 and requested additional funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
“I’m here today to urge you to support the allocation of a portion of the remaining L.M.D.C. funds to the original group of funded cultural organizations that are now hanging on by a thread,” she said.
The principal talked about how the school was able to bounce back from its pre-9/11 years, when it lost 75 percent of its enrollment.
“It would be such a tragedy to have survived 9/11 and come so far only to be strangled by debt associated with our L.M.D.C.-funded project,” she said.
Ecklund-Flores later explained that the L.M.D.C. money wouldn’t be used to repay loans, but to finish payments to SPK Lewis Construction and to provide “operational support to help us get back on our feet.”
The school eventually hopes to build a theatrical performance space in the ground floor of the 72 Warren Street building.
As for the late rent payments, Ecklund-Flores said she and her staff are having “very productive” negotiations with the landlord, Bertha Jaffe Real Estate.
“We’re completely committed to persevering, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about it every single day,” she said.