While the 40 students it cares for may not seem like much, the impending closure of Spring School of the Arts will have a devastating effect on the parents of those students — and the community at large.
The school, at 5210 Wyalusing Ave. in West Philadelphia, educates students from 18 months to six years old. Management will either have to sign a lease, which organizers say the school simply cannot afford, or be forced to vacate the premises by Dec. 31.
The St. Phillips Lutheran Church leases the space to the school and repeated calls to the church for comment weren’t returned as of Tribune press time.
“We’ve had a lease and ongoing contract with St. Phillips Lutheran Church for the last 13 years, and our lease needed to be renewed, but the lease required that we pay a lot more for our rental per month, and we really can’t afford that. It’s not a given that we have what they are asking for, but they are not backing down from what they want,” said Spring School of the Arts Co-Director Patricia Robinson, who declined to provide the actual rental figure the church has asked them to pay as to not further incite an already contentious situation. “This is a very difficult situation, and we’ve been trying to negotiate with them for a few months. The main thing is, this closes us down in the middle of the school year, and everyone is just shot into a situation where [parents] have to find other facilities – and if those other facilities are thriving, then they won’t have any room.”
One such affected parent is Erica Harris, who has two children – Elijah and Zuri – who have both attended Spring School of the Arts. Zuri, the oldest child, graduated from the school last year, while Elijah still attends. Harris said the school provided a positive learning and growing environment, and one that the neighborhood will be hard-pressed to replicate.
“Spring is a great nurturing environment. Both of my children benefitted, as the school served healthy, fresh meals, and were great at potty-training,” said Harris, noting that both of her kids were shy by nature, but that performing in the school’s various programs and interacting with their peers and teachers helped break them out of their shell. “The teachers care. They talk with you, share stories with parents.
“It’s such a welcoming community,” she said. “They try to emphasize community and responsibility.”
According to Robinson, many parents shared Harris’ sentiment, and said when she broke the news to parents, a few of them “started crying.”
“Many parents just don’t know where to go. They felt very comfortable here, their children were loved and protected, and the academics were being met,” Robinson said. “We are an arts school, so we gave the students music, dance, drama, visual arts, two performances a year and 14 trips, at least, a year. We’ve been here 13 years, but have been in business for 32 years.
“We knew we were going to have a short lease with the church, but we just couldn’t live up to what [the church required in the lease],” Robinsons added. “And many things we’ve agreed to in past years, [the church] seemed to just have put the hammer down. It’s like a new regime came in, and that new regime just doesn’t want us to continue.”
Robinson said the school’s options are limited, and it can’t easily relocate due to state regulations. The Spring School for the Arts receives no funding outside the tuition and subsidies that parents pay.
“We are in compliance with the state, and so we can’t just up and move. First, any building we find would have to also be in compliance with the state, and we would have to schedule [an inspector] to come in, and that takes anywhere from a month to 90 days,” said Robinson. “That is too long, and everyone would have been dispersed at that point, anyway. If we did that, we’d have to dissolve and start over again. We would like so very much to end the semester in June and make a fair agreement with the church.”
Robinson is mystified by this recent turn of events, noting that the school and church always had a sound relationship, with one group always attending the others’ functions and vice versa. She realizes the church has the authority to do whatever it pleases with its property, and is not looking for a fight. Robinson just wishes there was a solution that would satisfy both the school and the church.
“It’s a hurtful thing. Being here as long as we have and getting to know the people and the church; we shared spaces with them,” said Robinson. “But in the past six months or so, the relationship has been rather cool. We don’t know who the people are that is creating this hard line.
“We are a harmonious people,” she said. “We believe in working things out.”