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Old Lyme gives art academy $6,250 as it reinvents itself

Old Lyme — Deemed an economic development driver for the town, the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts this week was allocated $6,250 by the Board of Finance to help fund a “strategic plan” to reinvent itself as it moves forward without an affiliate.

The school had asked for $15,000.

Finance board Chairman Andy Russell said the allocation, approved in a unanimous vote, was only possible after his board discovered that leftover funds previously designated to the academy from last year’s budget were never awarded. He said the town typically allocated $12,500 to the academy annually, but the it had only received half that amount last year after it announced it would disaffiliate from the University of New Haven in August 2018.

“The Board of Finance felt that this would be a really good investment for the town and saw the allocation as a kind of economic development,” Russell said by phone Wednesday. “I think it’s a reasonable request for the town to help them on this one-time basis, as we have helped other not-for-profits in town and continue to, and as this gives them that chance to redefine themselves.”

Russell said that should the academy want the remainder of the $15,000 it requested Tuesday — a total of $8,750 — it would need to make the request at a town meeting in January.

The academy's interim director and business manager Frank Burns said Wednesday that the school has been making positive strides to rebuild itself over the past couple months after officially disaffiliating from the university. But outlining a three-year “strategic plan” on “where we are going, what we are going to be in the market place and how we are going to get there” will be another necessary step for the school to move forward, he said. He added that receiving town aid is a positive sign to the community that the town supports and wants to work with the school.

“I think this is critical. The people I’ve talked to and the people who have made inquiries (as potential donors) are looking for us to have a working relationship between the town and the academy,” Burns said, explaining that the academy will work with marketing firm Miranda Creative of Norwich to form the strategic plan. “So (this is) a good thing. There’s really no downside to it."

As part of the academy’s allocation request to the Board of Finance on Tuesday, Burns also provided the board an updated budget outlining expenses and revenues that the academy expects to make this year.

Academy officials previously had provided the board a rough outline of that budget at finance meetings last spring while requesting more than $102,000 from the town to help the school stay open over the upcoming academic year. But Burns said Wednesday that the new, rewritten budget is “more realistic about what’s going to happen” and was put together based on previous school spending and with a better idea on which facilities will be used over the year.

As part of that, the new budget outlines reduced maintenance expenses compared to what was previously reported, but also outlines higher utility costs. Burns also predicted in that budget that the academy will make $25,000 from fall program revenues and $30,000 from possible spring program revenues. Burns said Wednesday that a spring program has not yet been outlined, but the school’s board of trustees will discuss this week how they would like to organize those classes.

In total, the Academy expects to spend about $900,000 over the next academic year on maintenance, utilities and debt service, among other costs. Those costs were formerly predicted to be about $700,000 in the academy’s first submitted budget.

Offsetting the $900,000 in spending, however, will be $155,000 contributed by academy trustees, about $421,000 in unrestricted endowment funds and a total of $186,900 in predicted revenue, which includes gifts & donations, leaving the academy with a total predicted deficit of $129,209.

Burns also provided a letter from the academy’s attorney stating that the school had about $1.4 million in unrestricted funds available. Once endowment money is spent, it cannot be gained back.

At Tuesday’s meeting and by phone Wednesday, Burns highlighted that he believed the $129,209 deficit would be adequately covered if the academy is able to move forward on renting out the office space within the school’s Chandler building this upcoming academic year. He would not specify who was looking to rent the space but said the academy first would need to receive a modification of a special-use permit from the Zoning Commission this October.

Because the school property is zoned as residential, the school previously had received a special-use permit to allow UNH to use the property for educational purposes. Now that UNH has left, Burns said the academy would need a modification of that permit to house a new tenant.

Burns said that he has been discussing the possibility with Zoning Commission members and soon will submit all paperwork needed to move forward on the modification this week. A decision likely will be made at the Zoning Commission’s October meeting, he said.

“It’s important for us to do it. It would be a commitment and would help provide us with funding to maintain the facility and move the academy forward," he said.

Looking forward

With all that in mind, Burns said that things have been moving along well with the academy, especially considering that it spent up until last month completing its disaffiliation with UNH, figuring out “a lot of (information technology) issues that we had to resolve,” as well as what UNH was "taking and what we had to replace.”

The school has outlined 33 upcoming classes this fall and has planned a partnership with Miranda Creative to teach three Adobe digital courses over the semester as the academy looks to offer both traditional art classes, such as anatomical figure drawing and figure painting and sculpture, as well as a photography class and the Adobe certifications courses, among others.

When asked how fall enrollment has been going, Burns said, “It’s been a little less than anticipated right now, but we are hoping for an uptick in the next few weeks.”

Aside from looking to revisit affiliation options with other schools this year, Burns said the academy has been in discussions with Charter Oak State College — an accredited, public college with online degree programs — to see if academy classes are eligible for credit through the Charter Oak program.

Burns also added that academy officials recently elected First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder to sit on its board of trustees for a three-year term to increase transparency and communication between the town and the school.

Burns said that should a new first selectman be elected this fall, that person also would be offered a seat on the board and Reemsnyder would have the opportunity to complete her term.

“There are a lot of things up in the air right now, but we are definitely making progress moving forward,” Burns said. “This is a process. I don’t want a revolution, I want an evolution."

For a complete list of fall classes and workshops on offer this fall, visit the school's website, Classes start in October.


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