American Computer Experience, the company that runs computer camps at universities around the country, shut its doors abruptly on Friday afternoon, leaving students, parents and staff scratching their heads. The ACE website has shut down, and company representatives could not be reached by phone. A recording at 1-800-FUN-4-ACE explained:
“American Computer Experience is going out of business immediately. All ACE computer camp locations are cancelled effective immediately. ACE has experienced cash-flow problems and may file for bankruptcy. Families cannot expect that ACE will take custody and care of your children. We apologize for this inconvenience.”
“Obviously the people that have paid for the next two weeks are upset,” said Sue Nunan, director of conferences at Stanford University in California, one of the campuses where ACE leases space to run their programs. “We were as surprised as the parents were with the situation.”
According to data from 2000, a week at ACE computer camps normally costs up to $895. Camps are designed for boys and girls, ages seven through 16.
“We’ve had conferences here for 40 years and we’ve never had anything like this happen,” Nunan said.
Nunan said that ACE had run computer camps at Stanford for the past six years and had always paid its bills on time.
“They must have been in a really serious financial situation because they didn’t even make their final payroll for their staff,” she said.
“Some of the ACE staff were still there and they looked a little bewildered – a little shell-shocked,” said Allan Chen, business manager for academic computing at Stanford. “I didn’t talk with them a whole lot because it didn’t seem very appropriate. They didn’t seem to be in the mood for chit-chat.”
He witnessed the aftermath firsthand at around 6 p.m. on Friday when Electro Rent trucks pulled up and loaded up computer equipment.
ACE notified Stanford, and parents, of the camp’s closing on Friday about noon Pacific Daylight Time.
“My understanding was that they were planning on being bought out,” Nunan said. ACE “had a letter of intent from this organization (and they) were supposed to take over the company and then pulled out,” she said.
Nunan said that a company representative told her that they planned to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Monday. Chapter 7 usually involves liquidation of all assets.
Chen worked as a teacher at an ACE camp at Stanford in 1998 and served as the academic director for the Teaneck, New Jersey, ACE camp in 1999.
He said the company had experienced explosive growth when he was an employee, expanding from about 20 camps in 1998 to over 80 camps in 1999 and 2000.
“When I was applying for a job (in 1999), I noticed that they were all over the place,” Chen said. “It was very ambitious.”
In 2000, ACE introduced eight week-long “girls-only” computer camps in an effort to encourage more girls to pursue careers in computing.