Several Emory administrators recently met with a group of about 15 Emory employees who also are parents of children enrolled at the Montessori School at Emory to discuss the parents' concerns over the future of the Montessori school.
Since June 1994, the school has leased space on the first floor of the Burlington Road Building, part of the former Emory Baptist Church. When the church disbanded in spring 1994, the property was transferred to Mercer University, which in turn sold the property to Emory. The University entered into a contract to purchase the property in September 1994, and the sale closed in March 1995 following rezoning. Mercer's original lease with the Montessori School provided that in the event of the sale of the property, the school's lease would be terminated at the end of the second school year following the sale. This stipulation, which was discussed with Montessori School Director Tom Podgorny prior to the issuing of the lease, was added to the lease by Mercer with the intent to allow the purchaser of the property to terminate the lease early.
Emory's interpretation of the lease, an interpretation that Mercer has supported, designates June 1996 as the end of the second school year after the March 1995 sale. Podgorny and the Emory parents, however, interpret the lease to mean that the school can remain in the building for two full school years after the sale, placing the lease termination date at June 1997.
Rosemary Magee, associate dean of Emory College, told the parents at the meeting that Emory initially purchased the former church property for the express purpose of expanding the University's arts programs (particularly the music program), which have been suffering from a chronic lack of adequate space for years. Renovation of the former church sanctuary into a Performing Arts Studio was completed this semester, and the University plans to begin renovation of the entire three-story Burlington Road Building in July.
The parents expressed general understanding of Emory's need for the space leased by the Montessori School for its music program, but they also want the University to consider forming an educational/child care partnership with the Montessori School, even if that means moving the school to some other space owned by Emory. Parent Randy Hennigar, assistant professor of pathology, said he believes the Montessori School would be ideally suited for incorporation into the plans of Emory's Child Care Committee to expand campus child care options. That committee held its first meeting earlier this month to begin the process of developing a new on-campus child care center for the children of Emory employees and students to augment the existing Clifton Child Care Center, which serves 188 children.
Hennigar said he and the other Emory parents don't want to engage in an argument with Emory over legal issues surrounding the lease. Rather, they would like to engage in a dialogue about how the school can provide what the parents consider an important service to Emory employees and students with children.
In a subsequent interview, Vice President and Dean for Campus Life Frances Lucas-Tauchar, chair of the Child Care Committee, said that the committee is not considering inclusion of the Montessori School in Emory's child care programming. "As the chair of a planning committee for a new campus child care facility," Lucas-Tauchar said, "my hope is that the Montessori School at Emory would continue to operate near the campus and that it would concentrate its efforts on finding a location near campus. But our project has a different focus from that of the Montessori School with a different philosophy about child care. The Montessori School has a very good curriculum. It's just different from what we are planning."
In response to one parent's question on whether Emory would assist the Montessori School in relocating if a partner relationship with Emory is not possible, Vice President for Business Bobby Williams said that he will share all information he has on available rental space in the Emory area with the Montessori School. The school remaining in the Burlington Road Building past June 30, however, is not possible, Williams said. He said that Podgorny was made aware of Emory's plans and renovation timetable as early as September 1994 and was advised at that time and on several other occasions to secure other space.
"The termination of this lease has nothing to do with any animosity toward the Montessori School or its programs," Williams said. "We are planning to move ahead with our renovation plans in July. We are looking at the possibility of losing several hundred thousands dollars if we delay."