Farewell to a piece of Elgin history
In two years, Fox River Country Day School would have marked its 100-year anniversary.
But the vicissitudes of the economy proved too much for the independent school. This week, the school announced it is closing after 98 years.
Earlier this year, I wrote about how independent schools -- private, secular schools with well-defined missions -- were hurting in the down economy just like other schools.
Parents who lost jobs were no longer able to afford private school tuition, while others requested more financial aid. Both of these factors strained independent school budgets, and Fox River Country Day was no exception.
After parents and staff at the school mounted a successful effort to make it through the current school year, those forces proved too much to overcome.
The board and its financial advisers explored various options to raise money. Donors said they were tapped out. Selling part of the 53-acre campus proved difficult because the natural features made some of that land unsuitable for commercial development.
Now, the board and the finance committee will have to decide what to do with the property. The first priority will be to make sure the school's 40 employees are fully paid. School leaders say that will not be a problem.
Next, the school will have to raise cash to pay off the money it owes for the new lower school building that opened in 2005. Selling some of the property could come into play again.
"We still have bond debt on the property," former board chairman and finance committee member Dennis Marunde said. "We're going to be working with the bank to figure out the next best step."
He added, "We're committed to making everybody whole."
There is a chance the school could continue. Fox River Country Day could relocate, as it did when it moved from its original home in Michigan to its current site in Elgin.
But it seems clear that if the school does reopen, something will have to fundamentally change -- the focus on outdoor education, the commitment to providing financial aid, the small class sizes.
If that's the case, Fox River Country Day would essentially become a different school and the character-based education program that provided a unique sanctuary along the banks of the Fox River would become just a memory.