MONTANA AVE — Students and supporters of the Brentwood Art Center have come together to form a nonprofit corporation to save the school, which the previous owner planned to close last Friday.

With the ink barely dry on its incorporation paperwork — which was filed Tuesday — Friends of the Brentwood Art Center has already moved to take over the assets of the school from its previous owner, Sarkis Melkonian, and is working on assuming the lease for the building at 13031 Montana Ave.

The move was in reaction to a sudden e-mail sent by Melkonian at 1 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26 announcing to the center’s staff and students that the center would be closing, and moving up a student art show by several weeks.

It came out of the blue to many, including the owners of the building, Ed and Linda Buttwinick, who founded the school in 1971 before selling it to Melkonian in 2005.

A group of students and others met at the home of Don and Patti Burris on Sunday to form a plan, agreed to the nonprofit model and got to work.

It was imperative to move quickly in order to retain the faculty and make the transition as painless as possible for students and the community, said Lloyd Bookman, the attorney that filed the incorporation papers and whose wife has taken lessons at the center for 15 years.

Bookman was one of a team of 11 students and supporters who sent a letter to the Brentwood Art Center community assuring them that the school would stay open and soliciting donations to help with the cause.

So far, despite the fact that the nonprofit has not yet received its tax-exempt status, generous donors have stepped forward to help the school. The status is retroactive, so those donations will be deductible when the Internal Revenue Service confirms it.

“Our goals are to do it properly from a solid financial and operational foundation,” Bookman said.

Reforming the school as a nonprofit rather than a traditional business will give it advantages in that it can go out for grants and accept donations on top of tuition fees.

In the past, the school needed a baseline of students to break even. Enrollment dropped off as a result of the economic downturn and “other issues,” Bookman said, which forced Melkonian to close.

Melkonian has blamed the drop off of enrollment on uncertainty caused by the landlords when they went to get a zoning variance for the property which, if approved, would allow it to become an office building.

David Greensfelder, who spoke for the Buttwinicks last week, described the zoning variance as a backup for the retired couple in case the school chose not to renew its lease.

Although nothing has yet become formal, the group is confident that it can retain the lease and even hopes to involve the Buttwinicks in the new program, said Don Burris. Burris’ wife is a teacher at the school.

Now, Friends of the Brentwood Art Center will work to get money together fast enough to open the school as close to Sept. 17, when it would have been open under normal circumstances, as possible.

“It will be open for the new session,” Bookman said. “I don’t know if we’ll be ready on the 17th — that’s a very ambitious time frame — but we will open as quickly as possible.”

 

ashley@www.smdp.com

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