PORT TOWNSEND — The Jefferson Community School board has decided to sell the private school’s building and create a new educational model in an effort to stay in business.
“We’re here tonight to make sure the school continues,” said Nat Jacob, president of the board of trustees, before the unanimous vote Wednesday night to sell the public at 280 Quincy St.
“It’s important that we are jarred into the realization that we are in a crisis right now.”
Enrollment in the accredited independent program, which serves students in the seventh through 12th grades, is declining and is now at 17 students, school officials said.
School officials plan to keep its full-time students while offering an a la carte menu of classes for home-schooled students and others who want more variety.
Potential replacement brick and mortar sites mentioned for the nonprofit school were on the Fort Worden campus and at the Port Townsend Post Office. It was suggested that a new buyer might consider a lease-back program with the school.
Realtor Michelle Sandoval of Windermere Real Estate plans to list the commercial property located at the corner of Quincy and Washington for $1.2 million next week.
More than 40 parents, students and community members attended Wednesday’s meeting and heard Jacob review the school’s financial situation.
“Last year at this time we realized we were struggling and we needed to remedy the situation,” Jacob said.
“We passed a budget this past fall that had a significant amount of red in it, but we thought we could make up for the losses.”
“We haven’t failed,” he said. “We just need a new way.”
Jacob said the private school shares declining enrollment with public schools in the region, saying that Port Townsend High has decreased 30 percent in the last five years and that Chimacum High has seen a decrease in enrollment as well.
“Our model was based on 33-37 students. We aren’t there,”Jacob said.
“We have a wonderful old building that is an asset to us. It will be sold and the proceeds will go towards a new JCS model.”
Known as the Good Templar’s Hall, the historic building was built in 1870. It is approximately 7,200 square feet with four garden level units and main and upper levels. Sandoval believes it could be used as loft living space above with commercial/retail use below.
Board member and treasurer Charley Kanieski said that the sale of the building would provide $500,000 in equity.
“From the sale we have to pay back loans to our private mortgage holders,” Kaninski said. “Our potential seed money is $400,000.”
Kaninski said $30,000 was raised at the meeting. Paired with an existing matching grant challenge, it means $60,000 was realized,he said.
He said the school needs another $15,000 to close out that matching grant. To raise additional funds, Kaninski said the school is offering loans at 10 percent per annum and officials are hoping for $40,000.
Rita Hemsley, Head of School, said she strategized about how to recreate the school and decided to look for a way to serve the growing number of home-schooled children.
“We thought about structuring a plan that ties into independent study with flexibility,” Hemsley said. “We are still fleshing out the details, but we are looking at several ideas including a hybrid on-line program that is guided by a teacher.
Hemsley said that “given the free-spirited nature of our community,” more people would like to be part of the school’s program but they are discouraged by the cost of tuition.
“If we deconstruct the components of the program, more students can have access to the educational support that they need to complete their high school diploma. Our programs force critical thinking that stretches the imagination.
“These new program ideas are still in the formative stages,” Hemsley said. “JCS plans to survey the community and hold forums about creating the dream school. Whatever we do, it will be accredited.”
Hemsley said the school maintains a positive relationship with the community.
“Community members have fallen in love with the school and love our programming,” she said. “Their support and passion is clear and evident. And we have strong leadership through a fiduciary-responsible board.
“Several of our students were at the meeting and felt supported,” she continued. “They are so happy the program will continue and more kids can come and experience their school. They say this is JCS Version 2.0”
Founded in 2005, Jefferson Community School focuses on individualized education, and offers international field trips. JCS graduates 93 percent of its students, several of whom are from other countries.