LEE, Maine — High schools are not typically considered businesses, but Lee Academy’s burgeoning Southeast Asia expansion and dramatic influx of foreign-born students led the Lincoln Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce to announce Tuesday that the school is the region’s 2009 Business of the Year.
The award is a singular honor, even for a private institution, said Sonia Maxwell, the Chamber’s president, yet the Chamber’s 130 member businesses and board of directors could not overlook the school’s dramatic growth and growth potential.
The school is planning a capital campaign of $1.5 million to $2 million to renovate the school’s main building over the next three years. The school’s population has increased in the last five years from 190 pupils to about 280 — most of them foreign-born students paying $29,000 each to board at the academy, said Bob Potts, the school’s director of advancement.
All of this comes at a time when most northern Maine schools are experiencing dramatic reductions in population and budgets, Maxwell said.
“I think they [Chamber members] look at the expansion as having a strong economic impact to the community that certainly places our community on the map. And it does bring in some cultural change, which is positive,” Maxwell said Tuesday. “A lot of these students come from well-to-do families so they are coming with funds to be able to spend in our businesses.”
Academy Headmaster Bruce Lindberg recently announced the opening of affiliated high schools in Shenzen, China, and Daegu, South Korea, two of seven Lee Academy Asian satellite campuses that have increased or will dramatically increase the school’s operating revenue, Potts said.
School officials are hiring more than 20 teachers and staff to man the Shenzen Lee Academy for about 200 foreign-born pupils in first through sixth grades in September. Additional grades will be added to the school annually until it is a kindergarten through 12th-grade facility.
“What can you say? Bruce has just revitalized this place,” Potts said. “He came in with a vision, and through that and the support of our board of trustees, he has taken the school to places no one ever expected it to go.”
Past LLRCC Business of the Year Award recipients have included Clay GMC, Gilmour Farms, Hannaford Supermarket, and HC Haynes. Chamber members typically nominate four or five businesses a year for the award before the board of directors votes on a winner, Maxwell said.
Lee Academy won this year by unanimous acclaim, she said. The school will be recognized as part of the Chamber’s annual dinner at 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 8, at the Waterfront Event Center in Lincoln.
Lee Academy is a private, independent boarding and day school that serves students from 23 Maine towns. Founded in 1845, Lee hosts students from 16 states, seven Asian countries, five Central American-Caribbean countries, 10 European countries, Australia, Israel and Canada.
The academy has 29 full-time faculty members, eight education technicians and 21 support staff. As a nonprofit corporation, the academy is governed by a 24-member board of trustees. It has $1 million in productive endowment, a $3 million operating budget and a school plant valued at $5 million.