Merrickville’s Sam Jakes Inn becomes international boarding school

The Sam Jakes Inn in Merrickville in 2005. Photo Kenn Chaplin, CC some rights reserved

Rural regions constantly grapple with questions of simple survival: what does each area offer in terms of jobs and economic viability? There’s no single answer, and even innovative efforts will have supporters and detractors.

In any case, here’s one such story: what to do with a historic building, a landmark in Merrickville, Ontario?

Merrickville was founded in 1794. The Sam Jakes Inn was built in 1861 (with additions and renovations over the years).

Merrickville has a history that included mills and manufacturing. The current population is slightly under 3,000. Today it’s best-known as a tourist destination. A dynamic range of artists run studios and shops there. Boaters lock through on the Rideau Canal or tie up for some pleasant shore time. Merrickville attracts many Ottawa day-trippers and hearty cyclists as a good day-trip, offering a ramble of shopping or meals amid heritage buildings once there.

According to the Ottawa Citizen:

Sam Jakes Inn, which opened in 1991, was one of the most popular spots in Eastern Ontario for weddings, conferences, and weekend getaways. Overlooking the Rideau Canal, it was renowned for regional cuisine and featured 33 guest rooms with period furnishings and a spa.

The stone structure was built in 1861 as the residence of Sam Jakes, a teacher, postmaster and department store owner who served as Merrickville’s second reeve.

To some extent, those were boom times, though, with a lot more money splashing around. In the same Citizen article, then-owner Gary Clarke said government belt-tightening slashed budgets for off-site meetings, leading to a precipitous drop off in bookings. By 2009, the Inn was struggling for survival.

(Full disclosure, I had a very pleasant interview with Gary Clarke myself in 2007, the topic was the stronger Canadian dollar. He moved the discussion to border crossing challenges. Clarke was also very excited about the anticipated designation of the Rideau Canal as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the potential that held for the region.)

With prospects dimming for the Inn and Spa, Clarke tried to re-shape the facility as a retirement residence. That effort ran into zoning challenges and some community debate.

According to the Citizen article, the Inn was purchased last summer by a partnership between Susan and Doug Kendall, owners of Fulford Academy in Brockville, and the BTH Education Group in Mississauga.

The Brockville Recorder reports Fulford Academy celebrated its 10th anniversary last July. The Citizen states the Academy’s Sam Jakes expansion will open in February.

What’s the school offer and who are the targeted students? As the Citizen reports:

The new Fulford Preparatory College will enrol up to 60 young men and women, aged 17 to 20, from Latin America, Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Far East. Tuition and boarding will cost about $45,000 a year.

“People from overseas are very interested in learning in English,” says Tom Steel, head of the parent school, Fulford Academy in Brockville. “Canada is viewed as a very safe place to be.”

Is this a good thing for Merrickville? Can similar enterprises be replicated in other quite, pretty English-speaking communities? (Or French-speaking, for that matter.)

It remains to be seen how this particular effort works out. But tourism alone is a shaky foundation for economic stability. The best scenario for many communities usually includes a dynamic mix of diverse – yet complimentary – mini-economic engines.

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21 Comments on “Merrickville’s Sam Jakes Inn becomes international boarding school”

  1. mervel says:

    I think it is a great idea if it is economically viable. Education is a low impact product that brings in a stable flow of income and jobs to a community. I think it adds to a community in a number of ways even beyond just economically. Ogdensburg has struggled with utilizing some of our former institutions in this way, of course what we got instead of a high end boarding school was a lock down boarding school for troubled rich teens. Of course this kind of mirrors the difference between Ogdensburg and Merrickville.

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  2. The Original Larry says:

    Why spend $45K annually? Send the kid to school in Newcomb. The taxpayers will be happy to foot the bill.

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  3. mervel says:

    Well Larry maybe Newcomb could attract a boarding school? Cool location, small class sizes, it could work.

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  4. The Original Larry says:

    Newcomb already has a boarding school; the question is, how much is it costing taxpayers?

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  5. Walker says:

    Larry, maybe you should look into what you’re dumping on before you comment.

    “Foreign students pay $8,000 for the year. Half goes to the host family, half to the school district. If they pass all the necessary state Regents tests next week, they earn a New York high school diploma. Mr. Hults has also created a program that allows his students to earn college credits. The foreign students generate little extra state revenue, but costs are also minimal, since no extra staff members are needed.” (emphasis added) Tiny Town Recruits Students Worldwide

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  6. The Original Larry says:

    I did look into it, Walker, and this is what I found:

    New York State average cost per student 2012: $20,987*
    Essex County average cost per student 2012: $24,661*
    Newcomb CSD cost per student 2012: $56,111*
    International Student tuition: $4,500 (Newcomb CSD web site)

    * Source: Empire Center for New York State Policy –

    I think asking how much this is costing taxpayers is a legitimate question given these numbers. Nobody seems willing or able to reconcile these numbers. I am also interested to know how people from impoverished countries can afford the total cost (around $11K plus air fare). I’m also interested in a comment made in 2010 by a Newcomb CSD Board member that charging international students $4,000 tuition in a district that spent nearly $60,000 per student would be a “public relations nightmare” and that “It appears that NYS tax payers are footing the bill for international student’s education.” (from the minutes of the 12/21/10 Newcomb CSD Board of Ed meeting)

    Asking questions isn’t “dumping on” anyone or anything.

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  7. Walker says:

    Sorry, Larry, you’re right, those are interesting figures, if they’re right. Empire Center also lists Newcomb’s cost per student as $69,148 for 2011 here, bottom of page 10. There’s a footnote: “Total includes capital spending; therefore district totals for a given year may be inflated by building spending.”

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t think school districts can pass along costs like that to NY state taxpayers– I’d have to guess that there’s a bond issue in there somewhere.

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  8. mervel says:

    Costs per student is an issue and small districts have very high costs per student, rivaling the best private boarding schools in NYS. It is the reason that Coumo is basically saying you guys consolidate.

    I don’t know enough about the foreign student program in Newcomb to comment on it. I do think it shows the tremendous international demand for education in the US, it seems there would be a business opportunity there. I am not sure why taxpayers would be involved?

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  9. The Original Larry says:

    I’m not questioning the educational value of international student programs, I am questioning their financing and ultimately, if these programs are preventing consolidations where they otherwise should be taking place. If the cost per student is nearly $60K and tuition for international students is $4.5K, who is picking up the other $55K? Is there tuition assistance for students from impoverished countries?To what extent are NYS taxpayers subsidizing these programs? Simple questions that never seem to have answers.

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  10. Walker says:

    ” I am not sure why taxpayers would be involved?”

    Taxpayers would be involved because they want to save their school. So far, its working. How far would Newcomb have to bus its students if it were to consolidate with a neighboring district?

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  11. Walker says:

    The cost per student is nearly $60K only if you count construction costs as part of the annual cost per student, not the ordinary way of looking at this stuff. I’m sure that the building costs are covered by a local bond issue.

    Tuition for international students is $4.5K– where do you get the idea these students are from impoverished families?

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  12. The Original Larry says:

    OK, Walker, this is the last time I am going to correct you about what I wrote. I shouldn’t have to quote myself every time you comment on something I wrote. It’s either a careless habit or a deliberate attempt to mislead; either way, I’m tired of it. I don’t have any idea that the students are from impoverished families; I asked if there was tuition assistance for students from impoverished countries. Big difference there.

    It doesn’t matter what the exact cost per student is or what it is based on. The point is that $4.5K is much less than the average cost per student all across New York State by any measure you choose. Who is paying the difference? I don’t know why people answer simple questions with irrelevant information. It makes me think maybe people aren’t telling the whole story.

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  13. Walker says:

    Larry, why would there be tuition assistance for students from wealthy families from impoverished countries? It stands to reason that families that can come up with $4.5k aren’t impoverished.

    I finally see your point that $4.5K is less than the average cost per student all across New York State. Maybe my problem is that you don’t come right out and say what you mean until we’ve gone back and forth a few times. Seems to me that the irrelevant information here was the startling (and incorrect) $60k figure.

    I don’t know who’s paying the missing $5-6k, but it is probably pretty safe to assume it is local taxpayers with some state assistance.

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  14. Mervel says:

    What I mean Walker was that certainly taxpayers are involved in paying for our local education for our NYS students. However I am assuming that zero taxpayer dollars would be invested in foreign students? I had thought the foreign student plan was a way to raise revenue for the district plus get the benefits of more students and a more diverse student body.

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  15. The Original Larry says:

    These are the relevant numbers and their sources:

    New York State average cost per student 2012: $20,987*
    Essex County average cost per student 2012: $24,661*
    Newcomb CSD cost per student 2012: $56,111*
    International Student tuition: $4,500 (Newcomb CSD web site)

    * Source: Empire Center for New York State Policy –

    What’s hard to understand about my question? If Newcomb’s cost is $56,111 and the international student tuition is $4,500, where is the difference ($56,111 – $4,500 = $51,611) of $51K coming from? By the way, according to the Newcomb CSD web site, the total cost for an international student is more like $11,000, plus airfare. I don’t know if, why or how come there’s tuition assistance; that’s why I’m asking.

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  16. Walker says:

    Larry, what’s hard to understand about my answer. Newcomb’s real cost per student is NOT $56,111. That figure undoubtedly includes some construction, as per the footnote. Construction costs are bond issues, spread over many years, paid by local taxpayers. The real annual cost of running Newcomb schools can’t be that high. So the figure of $11k makes much more sense, though I believe that includes some housing costs. In any case, I don’t have an answer, but if their website doesn’t mention tuition assistance, it would seem to make sense that there isn’t any– after all, they want international students, so you wouldn’t think they would be shy about mentioning it.

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  17. The Original Larry says:

    Never a straight answer! Who pays the difference between the $4500 charged and whatever the hell Newcomb pays to educate its students? That’s as simple as it gets.

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  18. Walker says:

    Larry, if I had an answer, I’d be all to happy to provide it. I have said before, and I’ll say it again, I would assume that the difference is paid by the local taxpayers and whatever the usual state aid is. Why would it be any different from anywhere else?

    If you come up with a better answer, please share it.

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  19. Mervel says:

    I think you guys are mixing fixed and variable costs. Your average costs are spread over each student, and do include fixed costs those include heating lighting, a janitor a principle, those costs don’t change if you have one or 1000 students, those are fixed. Thus the more students you have to spread them over the lower the average costs. The variable costs change when you add students, if you increase class sizes you would add another teacher (supposedly), and thus those would be variable. Thus the fixed costs of a school with low enrollment is the killer when you look at costs per student. I don’t know what the variable costs of the foreign students would be, but I bet it is calculated less than the tuition. But that is what you would look at not the average cost per student which would actually fall when you add these guys as there are now more students to spread your fixed costs over.

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  20. Two Cents says:

    i would like to consider the bigger picture as to why does this look attractive to foriegn students.
    are they mining a resource we take for granted?

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  21. Two Cents says:

    dale you can remove these two posts, sorry i crossed posted from somewhere else. mea culpa

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