After a 15 year run, the Crested Butte Academy is closing. Despite recent last ditch efforts to keep the school going, it is not moving to Park City or looking for a new space in Crested Butte. According to Gary Garland, one of the owners of the Academy, “the school is not moving to Utah and it is not staying in Crested Butte. It is closing down. We notified all our employees and there won’t be a Crested Butte Academy this year.”
Garland, whose Mountain Sports Academy LLC purchased the school last winter, said the school has had a rough time for most of its life. “It has struggled for 14 years,” he said. “The housing aspect and the travel aspect just don’t work in Crested Butte. Housing in a resort community is always expensive. The killer is getting in and out of here. It takes an extra day each way and that is rough on the athletes. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it work at this point. It is unfortunate that we will lose all our coaches and teachers and employees. We tried to find a way but it isn’t going to happen.” Garland said the school doesn’t have a lot of assets to deal with but whatever they have will be sold. “The desks and books are going into storage and we’ll probably try to liquidate everything,” he said. “There’s not much really. We have a couple of Suburbans with 100,000 miles on them so they’re not worth a whole lot. We have some used desks and beds and books. We’ll deal with that stuff down the line.” Garland and his partners spent a lot of time and money trying to keep the school going. “In a resort the size of Crested Butte with one mountain and limited housing options, a private school doesn’t make sense. We’re sorry about it but the school is just gone. It doesn’t work as a business.” Garland said the employees, students and parents weren’t happy with the situation but it is time to move forward. “There was some tension and some of the employees were probably mad but we kept it going as long as we could,” Garland explained. “It probably should have closed sooner but we didn’t want to close it in the middle of the school year. That wouldn’t have been right or fair to anyone. At least now, the parents of students have time to look for other options.” Garland wanted to address the issue of the ice rink. He had hoped to add a hockey element to the Academy program and he felt having the ice draw would have helped make the school more viable. Student-athletes in a hockey program don’t have the same travel problems as skiers and boarders but they do bring income to the business side of the school. “We had about twelve kids interested in coming to play hockey this coming winter, and would have hoped to get more, but without a rink anywhere at this end of the valley, that obviously wasn’t going to happen. Having more kids paying tuition would have helped the school but we needed a rink. I am still disappointed in that,” he said. Earlier this summer, Garland explained that as of mid-June the Academy would have to leave their current home in the Elevation Hotel. “We have spent a lot of time looking all over Crested Butte for a facility that would work for a school,” he said at the time. “We just couldn’t find a place that would work here. We even looked at the old Whiterock Avenue campus but couldn’t afford to bring it up to standards and make it work.” So the Academy began looking at other options and the ownership group had been negotiating for the last several weeks to move the school to Park City, Utah. That fell through as well. Garland’s group took over the Academy earlier this year, when it purchased the school from Cay Club Companies, a Florida-based real estate company that had purchased the school in 2007 and promised a partnership with IMG Academies and funds for the cash-strapped school. But Cay Club informed Crested Butte Academy headmaster Graham Frey a few months after the purchase that they were planning on closing the school doors. The Crested Butte Academy was housed last winter at the Elevation Hotel in Mt. Crested Butte, which is owned by Cay Club partner SunVest. The property is managed by Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Frey didn’t return phone calls about this story but he said last month that moving the Academy from the Crested Butte area would have a huge impact on the valley. “Of the 70 students we had last winter, about 50 were boarding students and the rest were day students,” he said when it looked like the school might relocate to Park City. “We have about 40 full and part time employees between coaches, teachers, instructors. We figured that between $6 and $10 million in real estate transactions could be credited to the Academy when people bought houses after their kids started attending the school. We represent about $2 million a year in multi-layer business that comes when people visit and buy lift tickets, eat at the local restaurants and buy stuff.” The Crested Butte Academy has been in financial turmoil since December 2003 when the board of trustees announced that the school was declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The community rallied behind the Academy and a cash infusion from the private sector was coupled with backing from the Gunnison County commissioners and the Crested Butte Town Council. The two government bodies adopted measures to guarantee the refinance of the $1.6 million loan by a local bank to the Academy on its Whiterock Avenue campus in downtown Crested Butte. Those loans were later refinanced to help the school purchase the Inn at Crested Butte. In the end, those financial obligations proved too much to bear and the Academy was sold to Cay Club Companies. The school’s property was left in the hands of the non-profit board and is being foreclosed upon. The Academy had existed since 1993 and this past spring 15 seniors graduated from the school.