Academy enters new era of local ownership

Garland and partners buy private school

Crested Butte Academy headmaster Graham Frey says last July he was facing a choice that had become all too familiar in the school’s history—whether or not to shut the private school’s doors.


 Cay Club Companies, a Florida-based real estate company, had purchased the school last spring and promised a partnership with IMG Academies and funds for the cash-strapped school. However, it soon came out that Cay Club was financially floundering and Frey says it came as no surprise when he received a phone call that said, “Good luck—you’re on your own.”
Overnight, Frey says he had essentially inherited a private junior and high school—a school without any financial backing and no permanent home.
Still Frey says he saw the silver lining. “I could have closed the school,” he says. “But I didn’t think that was appropriate—the school was doing everything right. We had brought in coaches, enrollment was up… Things were going really well.”
Frey decided the most ideal situation would be to find local investors who understood Crested Butte and were willing to sink money into the school. Frey says he found what he was looking for in local developer Gary Garland, who, along with two unnamed investors, purchased the school from Cay Club Companies last month.
“I’m so excited that I can’t see straight,” says Garland. “This is one of those fun deals… We had the opportunity to benefit Crested Butte.”
Garland stresses that nothing will change at the Academy and his company will have no part in the day-to-day operations of the school. “Graham is the go-to guy on everything,” he says. “I’ve never run a school and I’m never going to run a school.”
Garland says the Academy will continue the relationship it developed with IMG Academies under Cay Club’s ownership.
However, the Academy will no longer have a licensing agreement with IMG, which means the Academy will not be listed on IMG’s website. Still, Garland says IMG will remain very much in the picture.
For example, Frey says IMG is promoting high altitude training camps at the Crested Butte Academy this summer, with two NFL players already signed on to attend. He says IMG will benefit in having a high-altitude program and the Academy will benefit by hosting it.
In addition, Garland says, IMG is lending its expertise to the Academy in developing a proposed ice rink facility in the Larkspur subdivision, which he developed. Garland says IMG has also agreed to filter students to an ice hockey program. “That’s what they’re doing for us,” he said. Garland caused a stir last month when he announced he’d use a $1 million donation pledged for local hockey to build the private facility—instead of contributing to a public facility in Crested Butte. “You can see why we did all this,” he says.
Frey explains that the school will now be governed by himself and Garland and his partners’ company, Mountain Sports Academy LLC.
Frey says it’s a good development for the Academy. “I wish this had happened a year ago. It’s the best possible scenario,” Frey says. “Two months ago, we had no idea where we were going to land… I’m really excited.”
Frey says he’s thrilled to have local backing. “I think these guys really get this place—they have a great love for Crested Butte,” he says. “They understand this town and the sports that we’re doing.”
Cay Club Companies and its partner, SunVest, also bought the Club Med building in summer 2006, where Elevation Hotel and Spa is now located. The property is managed by Crested Butte Mountain Resort.
Garland says the Academy will continue to be housed at the Elevation Hotel in Mt. Crested for the time being, but is looking to build their own campus in the long-term.
The Crested Butte Academy has been in financial turmoil since December 2003 when the former 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.
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.
Currently, 70 students attend the Crested Butte Academy in Mt. Crested Butte, with 15 members in the senior class.

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