Trinity Lutheran College in downtown Everett to close

EVERETT — Students at Trinity Lutheran College returned to class Monday to start the spring semester.

On Tuesday, they learned this semester would be their last.

The school will cease all instruction May 7, said Jim Lindus, who was appointed to the position of executive director of the private college on Thursday.

“The business model we have is not sustainable, not with the number of students we have,” Lindus said.

Trinity Lutheran has 166 students enrolled for the spring semester, he said, including 55 seniors.

There will be a graduation ceremony for the current class of seniors, Lindus said.

Likewise, no classes or staff will be cut before the final date, he said.

For the underclassmen, he said, “we are going all-out to have arrangements with other colleges and universities to receive them.”

“All the focus is now on the students,” Lindus said. “Everyone has been kind of counseling and drying tears with the kids.”

The school’s president, John Reed, submitted his resignation last week and it was accepted by the school’s board of directors over the weekend, Lindus said.

Since the school’s founding 72 years ago, “it’s always sort of lived on the edge,” Lindus said.

“It’s really hard to keep a college open with less than 300 students,” he said.

Trinity Lutheran moved to Everett in 2008 from Issaquah. The school was founded in 1944 as an arm of the Minneapolis-based Lutheran Bible Institute.

Hopes ran high in recent years as the school purchased a parking lot on Rockefeller Avenue to be the future site of a new dormitory for 125 students.

In early 2014, Reed projected enrollment would rise to 525 students in the coming five years.

The housing project, contracted to Koz Development of Snohomish, was approved by the city council, but construction never started.

A previous location for the dorm fell through in 2014 when the asking price for the property skyrocketed.

There were earlier signs of financial trouble, however. In 2009, shortly after moving to Everett and while the region was mired in recession, the school cut some staff and reduced some faculty hours as a cost-containing measure.

In April 2015, the school was one of 556 in the country put on a U.S. Department of Education watch list for cash-flow problems. It was joined on the list by many private, for-profit colleges with multiple locations such as Everest College and the Art Institute of Seattle, as well as smaller religious schools and technical training academies, such as Mountlake Terrace-based Gene Juarez Beauty Schools.

Then just before the start of instruction for the fall 2015 semester, the school abruptly closed its music program.

The school has 15 full-time faculty and 36 staff. An additional 20 “affiliate faculty” work semester-to-semester without a permanent contract, said Kandace Barnes, the school’s communications and marketing director.

“We might have a skeleton crew here for a year or a year and a half as we ultimately do shut down the institution,” Lindus said.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said in a statement he was sorry to see the school close down.

“They have been great supporters of Everett and their students have been active in our community and our downtown core. Expanding higher education opportunities in Everett is a priority for me, and it’s unfortunate to see them leave,” Stephanson said.

Lindus, who is the pastor of the unrelated Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland, said he was tapped for the role because he had been through a similar situation in 2012 when he was the board chairman at the Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In that case the president of the school resigned amid growing financial problems. The seminary did not shut down, however.

In addition to the vacant lot on Rockefeller, the school also owns its main administrative and classroom building at 2802 Wetmore Ave. and a 350-stall parking garage on California Street.

The building in which Trinity Lutheran College is located opened in 1929 as the Rumbaugh-MacLain Department Store. It later became Everett’s Bon Marché.

Trinity is the second college in Everett to close since 2006, when Henry Cogswell College was shuttered. Henry Cogswell used to be located in the Federal Building at 3006 Colby Ave.

The Federal Building was purchased in 2008 for $2.4 million by a development group led by Lobsang Dargey, the developer now under investigation for fraud by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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