By Larry Gordon
The school administration and community leaders in Woodmere agree, it is a win-win situation: The big win is the announcement at Monday night’s District 15 school-board meeting that a contract for the sale of the long-vacant Number Six School property is expected to be awarded to the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, subject to voter approval in a districtwide referendum tentatively scheduled for early April.
The winning bid is $8.5 million–far less than last year’s Simone Realty bid of $12.5 million, which was voted down by the community after a protracted and contentious debate that pitted the community, represented by the Community Coalition of the Five Towns, against Simone and the school board that voted in favor of the deal. The Simone Corp. had planned to open an extension of the Mount Sinai Medical Center at the site, which infuriated those closest to the property because of the potential threat it posed to an otherwise placid residential neighborhood. The HALB deal is very much the opposite, with almost 90% of HALB Elementary School students already residing in the Five Towns, many of them in Woodmere itself.
In addition to the funds received in the sale, a great benefit for the overall district here is that with less busing being required, and with special-education services for local students no longer being billed to District 15 at higher rates by the Long Beach district, District 15 will incur a savings of nearly $600,000 annually. So it is easy to assess the deal as being valued at more than Simone’s bid of $12.5 million.
There is little, if any, opposition anticipated, though it is still unknown what the stance of the secular press and the public-school community in the district will be. Joshua Schein, president of the CC5T, said in an e-mail to the 5TJT, “The sale to HALB could be very good for the community. . . . We want to be sure that the contract includes preservation of the fields and other play areas.” While the details as to whether those precise assurances will be included in any contract remain to be seen, it has been communicated to CC5T members that they will certainly receive verbal assurances of that stipulation.
In a statement e-mailed on Tuesday, HALB’s president, Lance Hirt, said: “The Number Six School process has been open, competitive, and professionally managed. As you have certainly witnessed, the process has taken many twists and turns and is still ongoing. Last night, we were informed that the District 15 School Board has voted in favor of pursuing HALB’s proposal to acquire the Number Six School and we are hopeful that a contract will be finalized shortly which maximizes value for the District without burdening the sound financial standing of our Yeshiva. Following consummation of the contract, we will be reaching out to you and the broader community with some additional details about our plans to upgrade and maintain the facilities, fields, and playgrounds for all to enjoy.”
Other HALB board members indicated that the property and the building, which have been vacant for years and which suffered considerable damage during Hurricane Sandy last year, will require millions of dollars in construction and repairs in order for the building to be occupied and used as a state-of-the-art yeshiva elementary school. The plan is for the move from Long Beach to be completed by the beginning of the 2015 school year. The same board members indicated that they expect to shortly sign a contract with a real-estate developer for their oceanfront Long Beach property, which will hopefully defray a considerable part of the transition, purchase, and construction of the new Woodmere property.
As far as other CC5T stipulations in order to support the referendum, Dov Herman, who resides close to the property and who was one of the leaders of the opposition to last year’s sale as well as a candidate in the 2013 school-board election, said that he has communicated with the board other provisos that he hopes will be included in the contract. Shlomo Zuller, a HALB vice-president and a former president of the nearby Young Israel of Woodmere, says that the school looks forward to working with and being an asset to the community. He added that HALB believes that they and the community are on the same page and that the school’s requirements and the Town of Hempstead zoning provisions as applicable to the property will result in a project everyone will be proud of.
Viewed in context, the reality of the situation should have the community welcoming HALB to Woodmere with a parade when one considers what could have occurred had last year’s Mount Sinai Hospital deal been concluded. The school will indeed be a welcome addition in furthering the all-important educational priorities of the community. Together with the recent announcement of the acquisition of a major campus in Inwood by the Shulamith School for Girls–also scheduled to open in September 2015–it all amounts to a great day for yeshiva education and, most importantly, the young students who will benefit from these new facilities and the education they will dispense. v