The Randolph College Riding Center soon may be on the financial chopping block.
According to RC President Bradley Bateman, the riding center is running at a deficit of $350,000 per year, and participation has halved in the past few years, slipping from 50 riders per semester to 25.
With those costs adding up, the college sent an email to alumni Monday, letting them know the Board of Trustees is considering shuttering the 100-acre center located off Hawkins Mill Road, about seven miles from the main campus.
“During a recent retreat, the Board of Trustees decided to undertake this spring a full review of the financial viability of the Riding Center, which has been a financial challenge for many years. Despite much effort on the part of our staff, student interest in this program continues to decline while its cost increases. When all revenues and costs are weighed, the program requires a subsidy of over $350,000 a year, or more than a million dollars every three years,” reads part of the email from Bateman.
With the board mulling the move, equestrian enthusiasts are urging Randolph to keep the center open. A Facebook group, launched Tuesday by Randolph alumna Caitlin Unterman, has more than 500 members, and an online petition to save the center attracted 200 signatures in less than 24 hours.
“Whether it is crowd funding, or recruiting– we are #Wildcatstrong and we are not done yet!” reads part of the petition, posted to ipetitions.com and titled “Save Randolph College Riding Center.”
When Unterman first learned about the possible closure, her initial reaction wasn’t fit for print.
“It was disappointing. I never thought it would really happen like that, so I was kind of in shock,” said Unterman, a 2012 RC graduate, former riding team captain and founder of the group and petition.
Now Unterman is scheduled to meet with Bateman on Friday to discuss the possibility of keeping the riding center open. To her, the center needs targeted fundraising to directly support it and recruiting from established alumni who are involved in equestrian sports and can help bring riders to Randolph.
“We have riders all over the place. We just need to channel those resources and get the word out,” she said.
In the meeting, Unterman hopes to brainstorm ideas for fundraising and community involvement.
Though the possible closure was announced Monday, the fate of the riding center is likely to be decided this summer, when the Board of Trustees approves the budget for the college, Bateman said.
With the financial deficit, Bateman said it is “prudent management” to look at the center critically. And with months of deliberation left, Bateman acknowledged there are more questions than answers.
“It’s an open question whether closing the center means ending the equestrian program,” he said.
The competitive riding program possibly could continue through a partnership with another college. Locally, Liberty University, Lynchburg College and Sweet Briar College all also offer riding programs.
According to the Randolph equestrian program website, there are 18 current team members.
Bateman was confident an equine studies minor offered at Randolph will remain regardless.
“I think I can say with certainty it does not mean we have to close down the equine studies minor,” Bateman said.
He said feedback since the email went out to alumni Monday has been mixed.
Though Unterman was disappointed by the announcement of the possible closure, she said she is trying to find a way to work with the college, channeling other alumni, to keep the riding center open.
For Unterman, her mission to save the riding center is personal. She said she came to Randolph — from Brooklyn — for the riding program. After graduating from Randolph, she’s remained in the area, opening her own stable, Culu Equestrian Training, and teaching science at Forest Middle School.
She hopes RC officials notice the traction the Facebook group is gaining as its membership swells.
“I think it’s important that the college sees that we have 580 people, and it’s growing,” she said.
With a Board of Trustees decision expected this summer, Bateman said it is unclear what would become of the riding center if does close and how Randolph would sell off the land and horses.
“We’re trying to figure out what all those options are,” Bateman said.
According to the Randolph College website, the 100-acre riding center features two outdoor competition rings, an indoor arena, a 40-stall barn and has more than 30 horses on site at the facility.