Monday 29 December 2014

Rosanna's old prep school facing uncertain future as debts pile up

DANIEL McCONNELL EXCLUSIVE

Published 19/05/2013 | 05:00

Rosanna Davison
Rosanna Davison

THE former preparatory school of former Miss World Rosanna Davison and her father Chris De Burgh, the oldest in the country, is beset by financial difficulties amid fears about its future, the Sunday Independent has learnt.

The Aravon School, which was founded in 1862, and which is located on a 15-acre site at the picturesque Old Conna House, Rathmichael, Co Dublin, has incurred "significant losses" as pupil numbers have declined.

The school, which has 80 pupils at present, is an independent, co-educational, interdenominational junior school for 3- to 12-year-olds; it receives no State funding.

Last June, the school celebrated its 150-year anniversary with a gala event attended by Mr De Burgh and golfer Padraig Harrington.

The golfer donated and presented prizes, while the singer performed a selection of his hits at the black-tie affair.

But the fortunes of the school have since worsened and it has emerged that staff have experienced "delays" in being paid.

A meeting between the school and parents took place earlier last week and the Sunday Independent has been made aware that a number of parents are considering withdrawing their children from the school.

Further meetings of the school's management took place on Friday in a bid to overcome the financial difficulties.

The school, according to the ECIS International Schools Directory in 2009, was charging £6,036 (€7,450) in fees for boarders but sources say it no longer takes boarder students.

In a statement, school principal Kevin Allwright admitted to this newspaper that the school has encountered significant financial difficulties.

"Like all schools, Aravon School has faced significant financial challenges over the past five years.

Aravon, which receives no State funding whatsoever, has taken many important corrective steps to return the school to a sustainable financial footing," he said.

"Aravon's most recently filed accounts to June 30, 2011, show that the school incurred significant losses as pupil numbers declined."

Mr Allwight continued that access to credit remains a "significant challenge and Aravon faces "regular operating deficit constraints".

He added: "In recent weeks Aravon has written to and met with parents, inviting support for fundraising efforts to help alleviate some of these short-term constraints."

But Mr Allwight said that the efforts of the management combined with recent marketing drives lead him to believe the future of the historic school is bright.

"Recent marketing efforts by the school buoyed up by Aravon's 150th anniversary celebrations in 2012, mean that September 2013's intake of registered new pupils is the highest it has been since 2008," he added.

In 2009, De Burgh spoke movingly about the school he eventually became patron of.

"Aravon was sold and the school moved to an amazing Victorian granite building full of towers, overlooking Bray and the Wicklow mountains – a beautiful place.

"It became a wonderful school. My daughter, Rosanna, went there as a day pupil, and I eventually became a governor."

He added: "But the school was floundering financially and was a million pounds in debt. After much thought, in 1993, I bought the school, wrote off the debts, gave them a long lease, rent-free and built a seven-classroom Nordic-style building so they could take in more pupils."

Irish Independent

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