East Lyme music school planning move to New London

New London — An East Lyme couple is planning to return a city-owned former day school into a cutting-edge music school.

The owners of the East Lyme-based String Theory School of Music are negotiating a lease with the Renaissance City Development Association, the city’s development arm, with an eye toward purchasing the former Clinical Day School, affectionately known as the Little Red School House.

Music school owners Chris and Amy Leigh completed a due-diligence period and have agreed to move forward with negotiating a lease option that gives the school the ability to establish itself in the building before they buy it, said RCDA Assistant Executive Director Frank McLaughlin.

“We’re excited. It’s great to see the continued use of that school in the neighborhood,” McLaughlin said.

The real estate brokerage company Coldwell Banker has the long-vacant site listed for $189,900. Negotiations on a price are ongoing for the lease and sale of the property, and a final agreement must first be approved by the RCDA and eventually the City Council, McLaughlin said.

The RCDA had previously negotiated with the Drop-In Learning Center, a nonprofit organization that withdrew its offer, and now occupies space at the St. James Episcopal Church. Negotiations between the RCDA and the Drop-In Learning Center over a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes was a stumbling block in the negotiations.

The String Theory School of Music school was founded in 2007 by Chris and Amy Leigh. Chris Leigh is a professional guitarist and has been a private music instructor since 1987. Amy, his wife, is a high school teacher.

Chris Leigh said he is looking forward to coming to an agreement with the city and a move to New London that would more than double their space at 25 Chesterfield Road in East Lyme.

He expects to bring along his students from the East Lyme area to New London while expanding the offerings of the school and partnering with local arts organizations such as the Garde Arts Center and Hygienic Art. The couple is exploring the idea of an after-school program and master classes with local musical artists.  

The school already boasts opportunities for players “aged 2 to 102,” with private and group lessons for beginners and advanced students for guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, voice, violin, viola, piano, drums, clarinet, saxophone and flute. The school also offers rock and jazz bands for youth and adults, vocal groups, classical guitar ensemble, ukulele club and an early childhood program called Kinderband.

The school hosts a monthly coffee house to allow students to rehearse and perform. Many of the performances are available online.

"The two of us and our staff are looking forward to having a facility that allows us to be more expansive. I'm very excited about the opportunity," Leigh said.  

The Little Red Schoolhouse is a 4,240-square-foot building at 96 Hawthorne Drive that was declared surplus property by the city in 2016. The city tasked the RCDA to market the former school along with two other properties — the Richard R. Martin Center and Parcel J, adjacent to the Shaw’s Cove Office Park at the corner of Bank and Howard streets.

A.R. Building Co. has proposed a $15 million to $17 million, 70-unit market rate apartment complex at Parcel J and is expected to break ground as early as spring.

McLaughlin said he has had no formal offers on the Martin Center but has had conversations with downtown developer Yehuda Amar.




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