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Not-for-profit private school moves toward building ownership

In this Following Up feature we visit Trillium Waldorf School and learn about Trillium Rising, their fundraising campaign to buy the school after nearly 30 years

It is something they have been working toward for many years and now the operators of Trillium Waldorf School are ready to graduate from tenants to owners of their school on Victoria Road

“The school has been the beneficiary of this beautiful building for the last 20 years as renters,” said Ian Digby, chair of the Trillium Rising fundraising committee. “We have some wonderful supporters who want to keep the school going and over the course of the last two or three years we got into a position where we are now able to buy the school and we also need to generate some investments for that.”

The present property owners have shown their support by agreeing to sell Trillium the property for well under market value.

“The family who owns the building and have been our benefactors for many years are very committed to Waldorf education and they certainly want it to continue and provide a way for us to do that,” said Digby. “So, we are very grateful for that.”

Donations have been pouring in and they have already met their target for the fundraising element of the Trillium Rising campaign. 

“At this point we are in a position where we are going to be able to buy the property at the end of June,” said Digby. “We’ve had over $1 million in fundraising success and currently we have crossed the $500,000 in bond investment."

A community bond offers Trillium Waldorf supporters the opportunity to invest in the school’s future and make a return in the process.

“The community bond is like a normal bond other than it can only be issued by not-for-profit and it must have social impact,” said John Wright, project manager for the community bonds and a member of the Trillium Waldorf board of directors. “One of the reasons we qualify is that we educate children and there are some inherent impacts on society through that education.”

They have already attracted a significant number of investors.

“Our goal is to raise $1 million total in bond sales, and we have over $500,000 in sales as we indicated,” said Wright. “We need another $500,000 and we are pretty confident in $250,000 of that so, we need to raise another $250,000 in the next four weeks.”

“We’ve had lots of participation from the current school community, from alumni and we have had interest from just general Waldorf education supporters,” said Wright. “We’ve also had support from the community that looks at investment not just from a financial point of view, but also they want a social impact done with their investment dollars.”

Trillium Waldorf is a private, not-for-profit school that focuses on connecting students with the natural world as well as purposeful work and other forms of play-based and experiential learning based on the educational theories and practices of founder Rudolf Steiner.

“It is part of the Waldorf movement which is an international educational model that just celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019 and there are thousands of schools around the world,” said Digby.

“Trillium was started in the late 1990s out of an initiative of some other Waldorf teachers in the area that wanted to build a school here in Guelph. We have been thriving now for 27 years and we have a full preschool to Grade 8 set up with really good enrolment and lots of participation from parents.”

Students grow their own vegetables in the schoolyard garden and use the vegetables to prepare school lunches. They build the playground structures and take part in the daily maintenance and cleaning of the school and yard.

“Climbing trees, building forts and stuff like that is part of everyday,” said administrator Stefanie Ly. “They’re not afraid to work. They all take part in cleaning their classrooms and doing the garbage, doing the composting. Often other schools will have a janitor on staff that will take care of all of that and the students don’t need to worry about it. We do laundry. We take care of each other and take care of our spaces.”

They are hoping to grow, both in size and capacity and buying the property was not part of their original plan.

“When we knew the lease was coming up, we really wanted to have a larger property and to build but we realized we needed more of a solid foundation in order to build that next step,” said Ly. 

“Right now our goal is to buy the school as a stepping stone of our future vision where we are actually impacting more of the community.  Having a community garden, having accessible housing, those kinds of things are long-term goals for the future, but right now the focus is, if we can’t do this, we can’t do that.  Let’s get our grounding here then, really truly make an impact.”