Lyme Academy of Fine Arts Plans Independent Future, Adds Seat for Town, Offers Fall Classes

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OLD LYME — After months of uncertainty and miscommunication between Lyme Academy of Fine Arts and the town, the organization’s board has added a seat for the office of first selectman, as the newly-relaunched academy begins to plan for an independent future without the University of New Haven.

“We wanted to have local representation on the board because we are up and starting anew for the school. It’s good to have the channels of communication open between the town and us,” said Frank Burns, the executive director of Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. “We wanted the first selectman because it makes sense to bridge communication between the town and stop the misinformation that has been spreading.”

The academy plans to host 33 short classes and workshops beginning the first week of October and ending before Thanksgiving, including traditional instruction in painting, as well as courses in digital art and training in the use of Adobe software.

“We will have core classes that are during the week, but we will have workshops on weekends and portfolio prep classes offered on consecutive weekends for ages 14 and up so we can include high school students,” said Kim Monson, an instructor and alumna at Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. “This is our first fall with this new scenario, so we just want to populate the campus so people know we are open and planning a future.”

Currently, 30 students are registered for the 33 classes, but Burns said he is hopeful that he will see more students register at the last minute. The organization has not yet developed a definitive plan for after November.

“We have enrolled a fall program and have begun thinking about a spring program and putting together a strategic plan for the future,” Burns said. “We will create a three-year plan so we have answers to what our future holds. We will have that by January.”

Burns said that the academy’s existing endowments will allow the organization to continue with reduced revenues for the fall semester. The academy is also planning to create a new revenue stream by renting 40,000 square feet of office space left vacant by the departure of the University of New Haven.

These rental plans were raised at the Sept. 9 Zoning Commission meeting, where members discussed the uses permitted within the town’s school district where the academy is located. 

Torrance Downes, the town’s interim Zoning Enforcement Officer, who is the Deputy Director and Principal Planner of RiverCOG in Essex, said the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts was originally approved for its campus using a zoning special permit, which required a public hearing.

Allowing a separate tenant would require a modification of the special permit, but would not require a new special permit application, and would not be as rigorous of process, Downes said. The special permit requires the tenant, whether Lyme Academy or another institution, to be an educational organization. 

Burns said that The France Foundation, an Old-Lyme-based accredited provider of continuing education for pharmacists, has expressed interest in renting the office space. The academy plans to submit the modification application at the Zoning Commission’s next meeting on Oct. 15. 

“There are things that will sustain us for a little bit. If we rush into anything it won’t work. We need to think about it and plan it,” Monson said. “That is our main objective, to have a really good program.” 

As the town heads into an election, the seat for the first selectman will be offered to whichever candidate is elected this November — either the current occupant First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder, or her opponent Tim Griswold. However, if Reemsnyder does not win in November, Burns said, she will be allowed to finish out her three-year term.

“Bonnie has made a lot of contributions to the academy so we could keep her on too if she wanted to,” Burns said. “But, if there is a new first selectman he would have that chance too.”