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Texas School Faces Closure After Donors Renege on Gift Pledges

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One of the oldest and most prestigious private schools in Texas may be forced to close because donors who had pledged millions of dollars to help build a new campus are reneging on their promises.

The financial crisis at Texas Military Institute in San Antonio comes just months before the school is scheduled to move to a new $14-million facility. School officials say they may be forced to sell the new campus and their current facilities at the end of the school year to pay off debts.

The school had raised $13 million for the construction project. But it saw those pledges fall to half that amount this year as many of its donors, hard-pressed by the drop in the state's oil and real-estate industries, found it impossible to keep their promises.

"Many of our contributors have gone bankrupt," said the Rev. Clifford S. Waller, headmaster of the 95-year-old school. "The oil downturn has left a lot of the major contributors hanging out."

The school, which enrolls 233 students in grades 6 through 12, counts among its graduates Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the astronaut David Scott. The school is now coeducational and its military program is voluntary.

Construction of the new campus, which is 85 percent complete, was halted last October after the builder said the institution was behind in payments. Two other subcontractors have filed notices of claim2p4for $60,000 for materials.

"We are trying to negotiate with our bank and the contractors to continue the construction," Mr. Waller said. But with an operational deficit of $800,000, the school cannot pay the construction costs right away, he said.

The school will be able to finish out this academic year, but if it fails to raise about $10 million in new pledges, it may have to close, Mr. Waller said.

A telephone and direct-mail fundraising campaign in December netted $250,000 from alumni.

The institution began its building program several years ago when it found it could not afford to renovate its old buildings and could not expand at its present site in Alamo Heights, an affluent community within San Antonio, because real-estate prices were prohibitive. The school wanted to increase its enrollment to about 500.

Mr. Waller said he was "trying to build people's confidence."

"All we need is $750,000 to $800,000 a year [in donations] for the next five years," he said.

He said the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, which owns the school, probably will contribute $200,000 a year to help pay off the debts.

The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. The accrediting association stipulates that a school's debts should not exceed 10 percent of its annual budget.--kg

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