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Vernon's Schubert Centre drowning in debt

FILE PHOTO - The Schubert Centre
April 06, 2021 - 7:00 PM

A Vernon resident's initiative in launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1 million towards paying off the Schubert Centre’s debt highlights the dire financial situation the much-loved seniors centre finds itself in.

And unfortunately, the lofty goal if reached would only cover a little over half of the centre's $1.9 million of debt.

Publicly available records show the charity's expenses have outstripped its revenue dating back to 2005. While not all years saw significant deficits – in 2009 the centre was only $12,000 short – but by 2015 the centre finished the year almost $100,000 in the red. The following year's expenses outstripped revenue by more than $300,000.

By the end of 2018, the Schubert Centre was paying roughly $150,000 in annual interest costs.

The seniors centre's financial woes were highlighted in January 2020 when it launched a fundraiser in the hope of raising $180,000 for a new heating system which it said needed replacing "immediately."

More recently, for the financial year ending March 31, 2020, the centre was again left in the red. While it brought in more than $1-million in revenue its expenditure totalled $1.16 million, leaving a $125,000 shortfall.

How the pandemic has affected its finances is not yet public but things don't look good.

"Like everyone, this has added a further financial burden on us as well," Schubert Centre manager Shirley Higgins told in an email. "We will continue to fight long and hard to stay open and provide great community services to Vernon and area as we have done since 1984."

While COVID may have changed things, prior to the pandemic the Schubert Centre has brought in the majority of its money on its own. In 2019, it generated $775,000 in revenue from renting its space and selling services and received only $20,000 in government funding. Members of the community also gave, and the centre issued tax receipts for donations totalling $79,500.

It just wasn't enough, which leads to the question: is the centre on the brink of bankruptcy?

"Bankruptcy or closure, though a reality, is something we don't want to consider or ever let happen," Higgins said.

Due to the senior centre’s financial woes Vernon resident Mike Caira set up a GoFundMe campaign in an effort to help out.

"I was worried, I was concerned... I don't want to see us lose (the Schubert Centre)," he said.

Then he thought: "Why haven't we rallied around them?"

Caira launched the campaign at the end of March with with a goal of $1 million and the money going to pay off the debt. So far it's received $3,580 in donations.

"Maybe it's a pipe dream, yes it's a million-dollar goal, yes that's big number, but can we rally old residents, new residents, friends, families, people who like me are becoming a senior (and) turning 65 this year," he said. "Why not try to help?"

Higgins said the Schubert Centre is very grateful to Caira for launching the GoFundMe campaign.

But she doesn't speak to specifics when asked what's needed to keep the lights on and the doors open.

"When our life under COVID slowly lets us return to normal... we will be able to open our coffee shop daily, get back to renting our fine facility to community events and needs, provide our great catering choices and with the help of our great volunteers that we can get back to providing our many different programs that we have offered in the past," she said in an email.

Caira said he knows how much the Schubert Centre means to the community and hopes the community will chip in to help out.

"Anything will help, if it meets it or beats it great... anything will help," he said.

The Save the Schubert Centre GoFundMe can be found here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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