"We're not moving. We're not closing. Everything else is on the table," says Girard College headmaster Clarence Armbrister of the North Philadelphia boarding elementary and high school established by pioneer trader and industrialist Stephen Girard in his 1831 will.
"Everything" could include, for example, a moratorium on accepting new students for a year or two, or ending the residential program and becoming a day school, or restoring the seven-day boarding program (currently down to five), or starting a capital campaign for an estimated $100 million in overdue renovations; or more than one of the above; or something else cooked up by Girard's consultants...
Childless Girard, who sold opium to China, American foodstuffs to English-blockaded Napoleon and gunpowder to South American revolutionists, among much else, bought and sold the first U.S. central bank, financed the War of 1812, and developed the Pennsylvania coal, railroad, commercial farming, port and shipbuilding industries, intended the walled 43-acre campus, its columned stone buildings, and an eternity of trade-schooled or college-prepped Philadelphia orphans (originally, at Girard's insistence, all-white and -male, now mostly African-American, and co-ed) to be his monument after death.
But the city-run Girard Trust's privately-managed $224 milllion investment pool -- down from a peak of $330 million before the 2008 crash and a series of debt restructurings -- and other properties no longer yield enough for the school's annual budget, forcing managers to spend down its principal, endangering its survival, even as they have cut costs.
To cut spending below the recent unsustainable $20-23 million a year, the board has laid off staff and cut enrollment, to a recent low of 24 new students each year, for a total of around 400 students, down from 753 in 2007 (and more than three-quarters from Girard's historic highs). Estimated expenses are down to $17 million this year -- still too high, says the board.