UPDATE: Gymnastics center owner steps aside in hopes of keeping business open for now
UPDATE: At the Jan. 17 School Board meeting, Superintendent David Dude told a room packed full of parents of Atlanta Gymnastics Center students that City Schools of Decatur is still trying to work through the issues regarding the gym’s lease. He said CSD’s attorney spoke to owner Christine Calvert on Tuesday afternoon and she said she’d turned over her keys to parents and was moving on. But shortly before the beginning of the School Board meeting, she informed CSD she does not intend to vacate her lease and plans to stay until the end of January, Dude said.
“It continues to get complicated as it has for the last year and a half,” Dude said. “It’s incredibly complicated.”
He said CSD is talking to Intown Stars Gymnastics if the owner would be interested in “picking up several months’ slack” and taking on Atlanta Gymnastics Center students until CSD can figure out another arrangement.
Here is the original story published Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 17
Christine Calvert has stepped down from her job at the Atlanta Gymnastics Center in the hopes that City Schools of Decatur will work to keep the space open through the end of the meet season.
The center, located in Decatur, abruptly closed on Monday afternoon, Jan. 16. The unexpected closure worried and infuriated many parents, some of whom paid in advance. One parent said he and other parents have contested the charges with their credit card companies following the closure of the business. Other parents are trying to salvage the season for their children. The gymnastics meet season is just getting started and ends in the spring.
The closure followed months of back and forth between Calvert and the building’s new owner, City Schools of Decatur, an email obtained by Decaturish shows.
“The reason I stepped down yesterday is because I realized there was such bad feelings between the School Board and I that if I stepped back that they would at least grant a stay for the kids to get through meet season,” she said. “That’s the only reason I stepped down. I figured with the School Board meeting coming up tonight [Jan. 17], maybe they would look at it differently if I wasn’t involved.”
Parents of students at the gym are expected to speak during public comments at the Jan. 17 School Board meeting.
Superintendent David Dude shared an email he sent on Jan. 13 to someone concerned about the closure of the center. Dude said in the email he understands that the closure will affect gymnasts who use the center, but he said that CSD had attempted to work things out with the Calvert well in advance. In the email, he said CSD made an offer to purchase the leasehold interest in October 2015, which Calvert rejected. She made a counteroffer, which CSD did not accept.
Calvert did not dispute the details of this, but suggested CSD’s offer didn’t take into account all of the improvements to the building, which she said was an “empty shell” when she started two decades ago.
She said she later told CSD she would accept the original offer, but she was told it was no longer on the table.
CSD closed on the property at 2617 Talley Street, which includes the gymnastics center, in June of 2016, Dude’s email said. The address includes the gymnastics center. Dude said at the closing, the school system learned that Calvert had missed several months’ worth of rent payments to the previous landlord.
When asked about this, Calvert said she was withholding rent due do issues she had with the building that were not being addressed.
“I understand that was not the appropriate thing to do,” she said.
Dude’s email said Calvert agreed to leave the building by Jan. 31 and that she was allowed to stay rent free until then in exchange for the gymnastics center taking over the maintenance costs. According to the email, Calvert asked for another extension on Dec. 16 beyond Jan. 31, but CSD declined.
“CSD declined that request due to construction planning and because collecting any rent in 2017 would likely result in DeKalb County revoking the tax exempt status of the property, forcing the school district to pay property taxes for the entire 2017 calendar year (regardless of the length of the extension) or to pay likely-significant legal fees opposing that revocation,” Dude wrote. “Additionally, CSD had been working with Ms. Calvert for over a year to allow her plenty of time to transition her business to another location.”
Dude wrote that Anna Robinson, owner of Intown Stars Gymnastics, contacted CSD for an extension of the lease because Intown Stars was trying to take over the business from Calvert. Robinson said she had been assured the extension would be granted, Dude wrote.
“Subsequent communication from Ms. Calvert stated that, ‘there is no contract between myself and Mrs. Robinson – she oversteps her boundaries and I apologize,'” Dude wrote. “Obviously, there seemed to be some confusion.”
Dude wrote the School Board has to “balance the needs of all district stakeholders in situations like this and do not make such decisions without all due consideration.”
“We understand that there are over 1,000 people paying Ms. Calvert dozens to hundreds of dollars a month to obtain instruction at this facility, that many of these students have spent many years preparing, that the timing of this issue greatly impacts this year’s competition season, and that many of the families attend CSD,” Dude wrote. “The Board and I have discussed all of these things over the years-long negotiation process with AGC and feel we have worked with all due diligence to accommodate Ms. Calvert while representing the needs of all CSD stakeholders.”
He added that he thought it would be “extremely unlikely” that CSD would offer Calvert a lease extension.
In the midst of all this, Calvert said she was exploring building a new facility on East Ponce de Leon near the DeKalb Farmers Market, but she said it didn’t work out.
Anna Robinson confirmed that she’s still involved with the new facility slated East Ponce de Leon, but said it wouldn’t be ready until the summer.
Calvert said she worked to keep the facility open and concluded the best shot at that was stepping aside. She also said there were liens placed on her business due to her inability to pay bills. She said she intended to file for bankruptcy soon.
“I put every bit of my savings, my retirement and I was putting in part of my social security to keep the gym alive and it wasn’t enough,” she said.
Calvert said she has done her best in a difficult situation.
“I’m trying to do right by everyone,” she said. “Maybe I haven’t, but I’m trying. All I wanted to do was allow my kids to practice. I’m not casting aspersions on the School Board. They have to do what they have to do.”