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Save the Curiel-Reynolds School

Posted Friday, July 6, 2012, at 12:14 AM

School Board Meeting July 19

This is the latest: we can use any and all support at the school board meeting on July 19. Please read the rest of this blog and decide for yourself if you support the district throwing away $3 million potentially coming into Spencer in the next few years. If their policy is to kick out the Curiel school, then the $3 million will probably go to Plymouth County or somewhere else instead.

Why should I care about an art school?

You've heard the rumors, and a few of them are true. We had a fire. The back part of the school was burned, and it will take a lot to fix it. However, we have help from some experienced remodelers and volunteer labor.

We freely admit that for whatever reason, the insurance on the building had lapsed. Louis "Tony" Curiel, the school's director, takes responsibility for that, and he said so publicly at the school board meeting last month.

We've been busy cleaning up from the fire. My son, Dylon, was there every day for nearly two weeks while other students were away at a glass conference in Ohio. Tony Curiel was meant to join them in Ohio, but the fire broke out the day before he was scheduled to leave. Since the residential students have returned, they, especially Alec Welch, have worked hard to restore the parts that can be restored with a good scrubbing.

We could teach art classes in the building today.

The fire marshall has determined the cause of the fire undetermined. It started in the back lodging area where two students had their beds and other furnishings and possessions. There's no one thing that is said to have definitively caused it, so there is no use in engaging in speculation.

While we work with the school district to figure out the next step, we will continue cleaning and restoring what we can. We do have an attorney, someone from out of town who has worked with Tony on other things.

More importantly, we have had kind offers of support and help from the art community. Arts on Grand has asked what they can do. Jesse Bogenrief of Bogenrief studios has been by to help us.

If you didn't have insurance, why should I pay for your stupidity?

This was asked on the Daily Reporter's article about the school board meeting, and it is a fair question.

I would submit that the Curiel Reynolds school has given to the community far more than it has taken.

Tony Curiel paid $100,000 just to move in to the vacant Reynolds School building. Since then, he has paid about $40,000 more into the local tax base, between the taxes he has paid and the payments he has made on the note held by the school district. At this time, he owes about $55,000 on the note to the school district.

He has a second note for $15,000. This could be paid in full when they finish with the neon installation at the Rialto Theater in Pocahontas, Iowa.

About the $55,000. It seems like a lot of money for the school district to be out.

Will you think of it another way?

Tony Curiel and the stained glass apprentices have been working on the restoration of some windows at St. Mary's Church in Remsen, Iowa. The diocese is working with St. Mary's on the full restoration. I'm not sure how that all works, but if the Curiel Reynolds School was to receive the commission for the entire church -- 2,000 square feet of stained glass windows in that building -- the price would be estimated at $3 million over the course of a few years.

That $3 million could cycle through Spencer in the form of paying for more apprenticeships and other vendors for the project, and for increased spending on equipment and supplies for the school, groceries and sundries, remodeling materials, and miscellany (insurance!) spent here in Spencer.

If Tony and the school are not able to continue in Spencer, Tony would likely rent a building in or near Remsen for the time it would take for the full remodel. That would be $3 million spent in Plymouth County instead of Clay. Does that really make sense?

No, there is no guarantee that he will get the commission, or that it will be approved.

Whatever the outcome there, we also have the possibility of St. Joseph's Church in Salix, Iowa. This one is not $3 million, but it is a project that would far exceed the $55,000 needed to pay off the school district note.

What do we do now?

This drives me crazy. I'm not a numbers person, and I'm not that great with money, due to the fact that I've never had any as an adult. But it simply does not seem that $55,000 is an insurmountable amount of money for something that enhances life in our town so immensely.

Tony and Jon Curiel took a chance on Spencer when they came here from Detroit five years ago. They put in a lot more than $55,000 to get here.

Can we pass the hat and put in $55,000 now to get them out from under the note to the school? This is not enabling, nor will it solve all the issues of the school, but it will free CRVA to stay in Spencer, and to draw from here when we look for talented individuals ready to learn who would like to be part of the only Architectural Stained Glass Apprenticeship in the Midwest.

In 2005-2006, Spencer sought to become a major arts and cultural destination. This commitment, as it was explained to me by members of SPACE when I came here for a tour of Spencer (I was contemplating a job possibility) was strong and would endure. Has it played out? Would people come to Spencer to be culturally enhanced?

I'm a writer, my 19 year old son is a visual artist, my younger children are creatively talented as well, and my husband enjoys music, theater, and other arts. The arts opportunities of Spencer were part of the draw for us.

This was the same promise made to Tony Curiel by the city manager at the time. He was promised support for the arts as Spencer grew in its commitment to artists. He was kind of left out to dry.

The Curiel Reynolds School will take on anyone as a student, and help them learn at their own pace.

Watch the movie!

I am still learning iMovie, and Hollywood has not been courting me for my voiceover talent, but I hope what I have put together here will help you decide for yourself if you, as a member of this community, can lend support to CRVA.

I hope the answer is yes. $55,000. Can we raise it, or come close?


Comments
Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Amy have you talked to Arts on Grand? I know that they hold a party every year. Not sure what they do there, but I wonder if they could not bring this to the ppls attention. They talk on the radio all the time, and this would be great for this place. When you get a big orginization like them to stand behind you, usually the ppl will too! Slowly but surely. Talk to the dream center too. This would be a great way to get the kids involved. Talk to local churchs, if it is positive, they are usually slow but if you have a good presitation they will listen. My best suggestion is talk to Kevin Grimes. If you get him passionate about this, he sure can help ya!!!!

As far as the city is concerned, one thing I have learned about some of the ppl in that building, they suck and lie thru their teeth. They are a good sales person, but that is about it! I will ask around and see what else I can up with.

If you talk to the right ppl, they will come! Maybe if you or the Reporter does a big article on this, the right person might just read it, and start the ball rolling for ya! sorry keep coming up with ideas

-- Posted by acerdj on Fri, Jul 6, 2012, at 7:44 AM

It seems to me that Spencer only supports the arts if and when it is convenient / profitable to them other wise your SOL . I too made a very big investment in time and money in Spencer mainly because of what the arts where doing here , And now its like ghost town . JUST GOS TO SHOW HOW MANY WALMART SHOPPERS THEIR ARE OUT THERE !

I really feel for Tony he has brunted the load of that school and been handed the shaft, empty promises, and BS.

-- Posted by BRUSHPILE on Fri, Jul 6, 2012, at 9:46 AM

I think the people who want to see the building stay open (I personally am apathetic as I've never even been in the building nor have any intention of ever doing so) should pool their own funds and make that possible, and not "ask" the taxpayers (whether local or not) to fund something that isn't otherwise economically viable. That way nobody can be offended and if the money can or is raised, it will be obvious the "benefits" the community receives from it are actually worth what it costs the community. If not, then the "community" (there are only individual beneficiaries, not collective "communities" since not everyone is affected similarly) will have said they find the benefits outweigh the costs and it's NOT economically viable and therefore NOT a benefit.

There should be no taxpayer funding for any artistic endeavours. Art is by its very nature something you do for its own sake. By its very nature it is something you do, rather than something you watch or experience. If you don't do it yourself just for the sake of it, or you're doing it for others to watch it, or see it, it becomes entertainment. Nobody (in their right mind) would suggest taxpayers subsidize America's Got Talent. SCT charges for tickets rather than expecting subsidies. So should anybody else.

The difference between the economic and political models is you're saying *I* should care about "the arts" and help support funding. But you're saying it metaphorically at the barrel of a gun, forcing me (or anybody else-likely federal or state money from people who will never see it anyway) to fund it, even though I DON'T CARE and likely never will. But if *I* supported it, and I used the ECONOMIC model, I would try and persuade you to voluntarily contribute. And you would be free to do as you please based on my arguments and persuasion. That is the way freedom works. A government strong enough that it can force you to fund "the arts" you don't like or care about is strong enough to censor the arts. Economic freedom in the arts is required for their to be freedom at all.

-- Posted by jlees on Tue, Jul 10, 2012, at 12:21 AM

jlees, I would agree with you in large part IF the Curiel School was doing art for art's sake. However, much of what our artists do is commercial restoration that brings money into the community.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/thebouncing...

This is what the Rialto Theatre in Pocahontas looks like right now. Tony Curiel is one of the few master neon artists who has the experience and ability to restore the neon on the building. While the Rialto did receive a grant to restore their theatre, it IS mostly people who want to see the outside of the theatre refurbished who did come together and raise that money.

As a matter of fact, getting private citizens together to raise funds to pay off the $55k note (of which, as I've said, Tony Curiel personally has already put in about $115,000) is what I am gaining support for. The school board's part in it would be to not simply kick the art school out because of the fire, and perhaps to be open to negotiating with us, should we raise almost, but not quite $55,000 to pay off the note.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Tue, Jul 10, 2012, at 2:05 PM

BTW -- thanks so much for your support, and for all the ideas, ACERDJ. Keep them coming.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Wed, Jul 11, 2012, at 1:32 AM

Brushpile, how has he been handed the shaft? The school board has helped him out with paying some of his property taxes when he couldn't pay them. Bottom line, it's his own fault for not having insurance on the building. Also, shame on the school board for not making sure he had any insurance.

-- Posted by older and wiser on Thu, Jul 12, 2012, at 11:12 AM

Amy,Why do you stress the fact that Tony has used his own money to start the school? Whose money should he have used to start his business?When I started my own small business I used a combination of my money and a bank loan. Over the years I have paid property taxes,insurance on my building and payroll. I have had to set aside money to get through the lean years(like now.)I would argue that my business and other small businesses in town have contrubuted to the local economy. In addition I live here and spend money here. So do my employees. So having said all this, if my business hits on hard times and I can't pay my bills, are you going to raise funds to keep me in business?

-- Posted by onamouse on Fri, Jul 13, 2012, at 10:36 PM

Onamouse, CRVA is a nonprofit. That means the funds do not come from a profitable business (though arguably, if the artists there had time, we could run an unrelated "for profit" business on the side -- an organization for people with brain injury in Sioux City also grinds and markets Jumpy Monkey coffee, for example). It is expected that people will donate time, money and materials to keep the school going, because it does not charge market rates, most of the time, for its commission work or classes.

If the instructors charged for their silver casting, lamp work, and other art classes what schools in Seattle and other places charged, they would be priced out of the range of most people here.

Just as a point of reference, glassblowing classes at the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle, whose mission is nearly identical to CRVA, six sessions for $580; eight sessions for $700.

Actually as I look through the tuition for the classes offered there, which are also offered at CRVA, they break down to something quite close to $100/session.

CRVA classes, to accommodate the economic reality of our area, are more like 1/3 of that, and we will work with anyone who wishes to learn. That is the spirit of a nonprofit school -- the mission is more important than the profit. This is where the distinction comes from.

With 40 years of experience and a worldwide reputation, it may be that our classes are more substantive than classes in some other place. It's unlikely the instructors in most other places have the experience Tony has in various glass projects, prestigious commissions, etc. Tony's fortunes changed for the worse when he came to Spencer, whether it was due to the economy, or due to the complete lack of promised support received from the community.

If we ever made a "profit" on our work -- yes, we could pay our obligations. But no one in the organization could personally receive a bonus or other recompense -- the increase would go back into the mission of the organization.

Does any business owner really save up cash to start a business? I have never heard of that! Banks take a chance on loans. The small business administration gets involved. Investors put in some of the cash. It is incredibly rare that anyone would create a savings account to start a business, then wait years or decades until that account contained the six figures necessary to begin.

That's essentially what Tony did. He may not have dreamed each night of his life in Spencer, Iowa for decades, but he did sink his life savings into the school, paying down 65% on the loan for the school. Do you think most business owners had to pay down 65% of their own money just for the building?

Companies come and go from Spencer at an alarming rate. Yet the county and city give them millions in tax incentives to come here, never learning the lesson that as soon as the incentives run out, the company will make the "painful" decision to close their Spencer location.

I don't know if Tony should stay here, or cut his losses, retire and move to New Zealand -- in his own interest. In Spencer's interest, there is no doubt in my mind that I would rather have the $3 million from the St. Mary's Church in Remsen, plus money commissioned for the stained glass in Salix, to flow through Spencer - not divert to Plymouth and Woodbury Counties. If they cannot work out of Spencer, they might as well rent a building in LeMars or somewhere to get those two buildings done.

They would also take on workers and architectural stained glass apprentices (through the Dept of Labor Certified program we have had up and running since 2010) from those areas if they were kicked out of Spencer. If they were based here, the priority would be to find able, interested individuals with at least some aptitude working with their hands and attending to detail, to be involved in this project.

As I said above, the issue is -- does Spencer want the benefit of $3 million coming in, or does it choose to pass?

Also, is the community willing to raise $55,000 to pay off the note and make the building no longer the district's problem? It seems like a solid investment, and could easily be done with a volume of small, tax-deductible contributions.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Sat, Jul 14, 2012, at 3:16 PM

I did not realize CRVA had nonprofit status. It now makes sense that you would be asking the public for money.

You mentioned broken promises. What was Tony promised and by whom?

Not sure the comparison to Seattle is fair. Operating cost are much lower here.

To the question do business owners save up money to start a business; yes some do. Not all startups have investors. I too used my life savings to start my business. It is a risk many owners take. Let's be clear, Tony did not HAVE to do this, he CHOSE to do it.

Please know I do not wish Tony or the school failure. But it is apparent that it has stuggled from the beginning. I am not sure paying off the building will solve the problem. I suspect it would be a band aid on a gaping wound.

The Spencer school board needs to make a decision based on what's best for the district, not what is best for CRVA. Not sure if this is fact but heard the district's claim adjustor was denied entrance into the building to see the damages. Can you clear this up?

-- Posted by onamouse on Sat, Jul 14, 2012, at 9:35 PM

RE: access for the insurance claims adjuster. I was there, along with my son, Dylon, when Tony went through the area of the fire damage with the superintendent, a female employee of the school district (assistant to the superintendent, perhaps -- wearing a district logo polo like Mr. Hemann), and the insurance person who took video footage with a camera.

Mr. Hemann and the other school district representative left after a short time, and the insurance person stayed for a couple of hours, I believe. I am reasonably sure this was the morning after the fire, but it could have been Friday, two days after.

The fire marshall reported by Thursday night/Friday that the cause of the fire was unable to be determined. That information had been released, and would be official pending the opportunity to ask Dylon (the student who was there at the time) some questions (they kept missing each other, but it did happen within the week I believe) and add another item or two to the report.

It was in this interim that yet another insurance company person showed up at the school wanting to do independent forensics. By this time it was 4-5 days after the fire, a major portion of the cleanup of other parts of the building was already done, numerous people had been through the area where the fire started, and the delay in letting them in was simply so Tony could speak with the school's attorney about what this independent forensics entailed.

Essentially: the fire marshall spent hours observing the site, collecting data, and making his own forensic evaluation. The report will be available to both sides. What is this additional forensics that needs to be done?

Once that was answered, I believe the additional insurance company personnel were granted access to the building.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Mon, Jul 16, 2012, at 7:28 AM

Thanks Amy

-- Posted by onamouse on Mon, Jul 16, 2012, at 12:22 PM

I was very surprised the price of the obsolete school was as high as it was when it was sold. You often hear of similar situations when the building is sold for a pittance, sometimes even as little as a dollar. How many businesses would be a fit for that ediface? It's pretty big for a house,, it would cost a fortune to adapt it for apartments...

Tony Curiel has contributed a lot to Spencer in the few years he has been here. He also deals with war injury issues admirably, without complaining. I think he deserves our support!

Boly

-- Posted by boly on Wed, Jul 18, 2012, at 12:09 AM

Amy, A correction to your original story - Tony does not have a loan with the Iowa Lakes Corridor; it is with the Spencer Area Jobs Trust. Also, the comment about Tony being left out to dry is just not true or a fair statement. Additional research or interviews should be done before writing such a statement.

-- Posted by lakes corridor on Sat, Jul 21, 2012, at 1:11 PM

I do not remember saying anything about Lakes Corridor at all, or about LCO leaving Tony out to dry. Others are talking about various entities seeming to want what CRVA offers, without providing support. You would have to ask them if they are speaking of Lakes Corridor. These stories do not involve Lakes Corridor in any way, really. It's about the note with the school board. If the loan is not with Lakes Corridor, and we're not connected, then I'm not sure why we (Tony, board member Steve Booth and I) had lunch with Brian D in April to talk about working together.

-- Posted by AmyPeterson on Sun, Jul 22, 2012, at 8:18 PM

Amy, reread your blog. You mention a $15,000 loan from LCO.

-- Posted by onamouse on Mon, Jul 23, 2012, at 12:39 PM


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Amy Hillgren Peterson has been married to Ed since 1992 and is the mother of three children: two teenagers and an elementary student. Her fiction, drama and essays have won several awards and have appeared in local and national publications. She is the published author of a memoir and a novel, and is currently at work on more theatrical works and a short story collection. She blogs about faith; relationships; simple, sustainable living; mental health; and creative writing. She also blogs about new and exciting happenings at the Curiel Reynolds School of Visual Arts in Spencer.