WUHSMS School Board meeting will be held Wednesday, Aug. 14, 7 p.m. in the Teagle Library. One of the items on the agenda will be the Union Arena’s request for endowment funds.
Union Arena’s board and general manager are asking supporters to show up to the school board meeting to help them convince board members to give them $125,000 of the arena’s $460,000 endowment. The board believes the funds would help get the arena onto solid financial footing, helping it pay off about $90,000 in private loans and $35,000 in outstanding operating and maintenance costs.
“We have some debt we need to pay that has been accumulating as a result of a variety of things that have gone on over the years,” said Union Arena board chair Ginny Eames. “We want to wipe the slate clean and pay everything off and start from zero.”
However, the trustees of the endowment fund say that’s not what the endowment was set up for back in 2003.
“It was set up to protect the high school so they don’t get left with a big building that they’d have to maintain with public money,” said endowment fund trustee Tom Debevoise.
An 18-page agreement drawn up by the nonprofit management company for Union Arena and the high school, says the $450,000 endowment fund is used at the high school’s discretion for maintaining and making any needed building repairs.
The Woodstock Union High School-Middle School board has control of the fund, but board chair Dwight Doton said they rely heavily on the advice of the fund’s trustees to make decisions. As of Tuesday, Doton hadn’t received a formal request for the funds.
Eames met with school board member and fund trustee Jay Leiter to make an informal request.
The arena has drawn from the endowment before, mostly for building maintenance with a few exceptions. A few years after construction, the arena received about $70,000 to finish a couple of bathrooms in the locker rooms and a couple of years ago, the endowment paid for a $15,000 audit to help the arena get its books in order.
The trustees prefer to draw off no more than $25,000 annually from the fund, which is sustained by investment income, according to Debevoise, who thinks Union Arena can narrow the current gap with fundraising.
“We have fundraised and we have increased our fundraising results over the last three years,” Eames said. “But the economic situation — it’s really affected everybody.”
The arena has been dealing with long-term debt ever since the construction of the building, when the organization took out an unplanned $500,000 mortgage.
The mortgage was paid off in 2011, thanks to a generous donation, but payments over the years affected the arena’s bottom line, said French, who was general manager from 2003-06. French says the current debt is “manageable.”
“But it makes operations a lot more difficult and a lot more challenging,” French said.
The arena had more than 50,000 visitors and made $525,000 in revenue from June of last year to May of this year — the arena’s fiscal year — according to Union Arena General Manager Dan French. This year, French made a “very conservative” projection of $540,000 in revenue and a $20,000 operating profit. But those numbers don’t factor in the outstanding loans and costs the arena says it needs to pay.
The arena has also expanded its programming in the last three years, from roller derby matches to family events like circus camps.
Eames said the arena’s board hasn’t discussed what to do if the school board doesn’t approve the request.
The agreement between the arena and the high school allows WUHS the right to sell the arena’s ice rink equipment and convert the space to a field house — if the operators are “unable to manage and operate the arena for its intended purposes in a financially sound manner.”
“In the past we have discussed as a board that there’s nothing more in our best interest than to have that area be viable,” Doton said.
(This story was first published in the August 8, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
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