Morris Brown officials optimistic, with bankruptcy-exit plan OK’d

Mike Morris and Sonam Vashi contributed to this report

Restoring Morris Brown College to its height — when enrollment neared 3,000 and fans packed Herndon Stadium for football games and band battles — will be tough, Board of Trustees member Sonny Walker said Friday.

This week’s court approval of a plan to get out of bankruptcy signals progress, he said. Next, officials hope to regain accreditation for the first time since 2002, which would again allow federal aid for incoming students.

“We still have some financial issues we have to combat, but I believe we’ll be in much better position to handle it,” Walker said Friday.

The school’s bankruptcy emergence was approved Wednesday and affirmed in an order signed Thursday by Judge Barbara Ellis-Munro.

Friday, 33 students were enrolled at the financially-strapped college, Walker said, with 21 scheduled to graduate on May 16.

The school and its programs will undergo a transformation of sorts as it rebounds, President Stanley Pritchett said Friday. He said there are hopes for long-standing programs in hospitality and tourism management to return to the forefront of the school’s offerings. Plans are being made for programs in film production and programs to help veterans re-enter the job force as civilians.

“It’s very exciting,” Pritchett said Friday, talking about the school’s future. “It shows the hard work and sacrifice (since the school lost accreditation) will allow us to go forward.”

The school lost its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2002, ending any federal financial assistance students were getting. As debt topped $30 million, Morris Brown filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in August 2012.

In a motion filed this week, the college spelled out a plan to resolve several remaining minor claims, including debts to ADT Security Service, the Robert W. Woodruff Library, a consulting firm and two individuals. A hearing on that motion has been scheduled for April 29.

As part of the bankruptcy, the college sold 26 acres and buildings to InVest Atlanta and Friendship Baptist Church for $14.7 million, but retains ownership of the school’s administration building, Griffin Hightower Classroom building and Fountain Hall.

Friendship Baptist was sold and demolished to make way for the future $1.3 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium just steps from the Morris Brown property.

Clark Atlanta University sued, arguing the sale of Morris Brown property was illegal. It said an agreement between the two schools required any Morris Brown College land not used for education to be returned to Clark Atlanta, which once owned 17 acres of the college. Late Friday afternoon, Clark Atlanta spokesman Larry Calhoun said the school does not comment on ongoing litigation. The suit is still pending in Fulton County Superior Court.

“Although we don’t own much of the property we owned prior, we are better off financially and certainly … are in a much better position to apply for and get certified and accredited as an institution,” Walker said.

Walker said school officials constantly receive inquiries about enrollment.

“As soon as we’re able to get accredited, we can really have a massive enrollment,” he said. “And provide aid to students. It’s time to start focusing on tomorrow.

“There’s still much interest in Morris Brown.”