SANTA FE, N.M. — Students were still shocked, but philosophical, on Thursday after the news this week that the Santa Fe University of Art and Design will close after the 2017-18 school year due to what the college administration says are “ongoing financial challenges.”
City government owns the campus and still owes many millions on the financing used to purchase the site in 2009. What happens next with the campus remains unclear.
Students now in their junior years will be able to complete their studies before the school shuts down.
Junior digital arts and visual development major Kaity Reaves of Dallas said in an on-campus interview Thursday that she was blind-sided at first, but is trying to look on the bright side. “It really sucks for the undergrads, the lower classmen,” she said.
“They are having to transfer, they aren’t going to be able to graduate from here, so that’s extremely problematic.”
She said many students don’t have the money to move or immediately transfer. “There are schools that are working with SFUAD on transfer mumbo jumbos, but most of the application deadlines have already passed, especially for anyone who is (among) lower classmen in the theater – their audition dates have already passed.”
But she said the professors “are doing everything they can to make sure we are getting the quality education necessary to have our portfolios ready.”
While one sophomore interviewed Thursday said he intends to double up on his class load in an effort to graduate next year, sophomore studio arts major Marilyn Marquis from Placerville, Calif., said she will transfer.
“It’s really disappointing, but there are still some good opportunities for the students here to continue making art,” Marquis said. She’s looking at other schools and “keeping all my options open.”
According to a statement released by SFUAD on Wednesday, the for-profit university’s board of directors and owners are reviewing options for the future, but announced the school’s closure to provide clarity for students.
The four-year, accredited school owned by LEI Holdings – associated with the Laureate education business that has numerous schools around the world – had announced last month that it was suspending enrollment of new students for the fall semester after a deal to sell the school to a Singapore-based company fell through.
Now, the closure raises questions about what happens to the city-owned campus going forward.
Santa Fe city government purchased 91 acres, including the campus, in 2009 as the old College of Santa Fe collapsed, for $19.5 million.
For the project, the city borrowed $29.6 million from the New Mexico Finance Authority, providing additional money above the purchase price for facility improvements. About 64 acres were leased to SFUAD, originally for 27 years with $2.35 million annual payments, which as of last year were lowered to $2.23 million, matching the city’s average annual debt service payment, according to information provided Thursday by the city. Laureate, which had made all lease payments to date, has an option to buy the 64 acres.
The city provided no information Friday on how much it still owes, including interest, on the financing for the campus purchase. SFUAD’s president said Wednesday that Laureate is out of the lease once the school closes.
Information on the Finance Authority’s website shows that the term of the loan to Santa Fe for the College of Santa Fe purchase was 27 years – leaving 18 years to deal with after SFUAD closes in 2018.
If the average debt services payments remain in the $2 million range, the city would have to pay out well more than $30 million during the term.
Mayor Javier Gonzales has said the city is considering other options and partners for the campus. The school’s Wednesday announcement said it will work with the city to explore “new and innovative public-private partnerships to further the educational and arts mission of the campus.”
SFUAD spokeswoman Rachael Lighty on Thursday provided an additional statement when asked about potential outcomes for Garson Studios, the longtime movie studio on the campus, and The Screen, the art-house cinema there.
“We, along with the City of Santa Fe, recognize the important purpose that both Garson Studios and The Screen bring to the community, and are working with the City for their continued use,” Lighty said. “SFUAD does not own Garson Studios nor The Screen, however we will continue to operate them both throughout the 2017-2018 academic year.
“From then on, since they are part of the City’s property, and because … film is such an important asset to the City and the state, the City is actively working to ensure continuity.”
Some of the 91 acres purchased by the city 8 years ago was sold to state government.
One student ‘adaptable’
For junior environmental design student, Jacob Goodey of Washington state, the shock of the announcement of school’s closing next year was starting to wear off Thursday.
“Honestly, at first, I guess everybody was kind of PO’d, but I take things as they go. I am easily adaptable,” he said.
“It is unfortunate that it is happening, but of course the staff and faculty are keeping everything for the best interest for us … . It could have gone a lot worse, it could have gone a lot better, but it’s actually OK the way that it’s been turning out,” said Goodey.
Junior communications design major Parker Hanson from Los Alamos said the school’s staff has helped de-stress the situation.
“It was originally a big shock to everyone,” said Hanson. “The staff and faculty and all the chairmen here are keeping everything together.
“They have given us a concrete plan of what’s going to happen and it’s not particularly stressful for the people that are staying here. It’s going to be a change because classes are going to be way smaller but that’s more individual attention,” said Hanson.
“We still have our accreditation … and the school here is legally bound to give us what we need to graduate effectively.”
For Niko’a Salas, a sophomore theater major from Vermont, the shuttering of the college will make his next school year difficult. He was having trouble Thursday articulating his thoughts.
“This is my reaction, not able to talk,” he said. The announced shut-down has caused him and roommates some practical, real-life concerns about their off-campus apartment.
“We stressed out because we had to find if we were going to renew our lease or not … we were like ‘Oh, my God,’ whether we can stay or not,” he said.
“My reaction was fearful … because I have made many connections in Santa Fe, at the school, as well as in the community, as well as projects.”
Salas will take on additional classes next school year in an attempt to graduate and also take summer school. “I will have a much rougher load than everyone else,” he said.
Journal North editor Mark Oswald contributed to this story.