By Michele Justic
Remember those math problems we all loved to hate? Here’s one:
Mrs. Weiss told Sarah to bring 10 pencils and 2 notebooks to school. The school loses its home at 305 Cedarhurst Avenue, and Mrs. Weiss, Sarah, the other 699 students, and 40 teachers have nowhere to go. Find the correct answer.
The District 15 community must step in and help a beloved school keep its home. Due to a shift in demographics, in 2013, the Lawrence School District successfully transferred the students and teachers of the Number 5 school to the Inwood and Lawrence campuses. Shulamith School for Girls has leased the property for eight years; before that, each division was housed in a separate location as the school grew. The school pays $600,000 in rent per year plus repairs. Eight elementary-school and three high-school classes have graduated in that time, with over 50 girls each, and thousands now view the spacious building with the purple banner as their educational home.
Murray Fohrman, president of the District 15 School Board, explains that the time has come to sell the building to allow the district to supplement FEMA funds for a $60 million reconstruction project at the Lawrence High School to repair Hurricane Sandy damage.
Approximately 18 months ago, the Lawrence Union Free School District contracted with Greiner Maltz, a respected national real estate brokerage firm to market the Number 5 School. Greiner Maltz contacted thousands of potential purchasers and received dozens of indications of interest and ultimately several offers to purchase. Shulamith School for Girls submitted the highest offer of $12.5 million. As mandated by New York State education law, the District must seek the approval of the voting public to complete the sale to Shulamith, the high bidder. A vote on a referendum to approve the sale has been properly noticed and will take place on Thursday, February 16 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. at the Lawrence High School.
Cedarhurst Mayor Ben Weinstock appreciates having Shulamith in that building and hopes it will continue. He notes, “I, along with the Cedarhurst board, am very much in favor of Shulamith buying the Number 5 School. That location has always been a local neighborhood school for good reason. It’s walkable for many children in our community because it is so centrally located. Shulamith has been a good neighbor, investing a lot of money in the property and causing no problems.”
Regarding any potential alternative use for that land, Mayor Weinstock continues, “It is presently zoned for approximately 10 single-family homes or a school. We absolutely have no intention of changing the zoning. While the Village can’t stop a developer from buying the property and making an application for a higher density, we would certainly oppose any such application to the Zoning Board, which in all likelihood would not be inclined to grant it anyway.”
Mayor Alex Edelman, of neighboring Lawrence, agrees, “It is extremely important that we should support the purchase of the Shulamith School, as this is the best possible outcome for the community. It’s a quality education school that has been at this location the last eight years. It’s our duty to show support.”
Lawrence Trustee Paris Popack notes, “Shulamith School for Girls has been here for eight years. Three of my daughters attended Shulamith and they still talk about how great their education was. Additionally, the extracurricular activities were top-notch. This property and building should remain as a school to educate the hundreds, the thousands, of future generations in the Five Towns. Throughout Jewish history, the priority has always been to give a quality Torah education to our children. There is nowhere else for Shulamith to go. We must do everything we can to keep this a first-rate local all-girls school on this Cedarhurst property located in the heart of the Five Towns community. We cannot afford to lose this opportunity to save the school. COME OUT AND VOTE.”
Josh Justic, president of the Community Coalition of the Five Towns, which was instrumental in the unprecedented community turnout voting against the sale of the Number 6 School in Woodmere to Simone Medical and later in favor of the sale to Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, agrees. “The CC5T (Community Coalition of the Five Towns) was founded 10 years ago by Josh Schein, OB’M, to preserve the character of our community, to ensure our children have a place to be educated, and to preserve our green spaces for everyone to enjoy. It is critical that we preserve the Number 5 School as a place where children can be educated for many years to come. The Number 5 School has been there for almost 100 years and it is our duty to ensure it stays there for generations to come.”
The Cedarhurst property is a 97,000-square-foot building built in 1929 that occupies just over 2.5 acres. Third-grade secular studies teacher Fraida Levine lovingly speaks of how the school has enhanced the education of the girls tremendously. “This is a prewar building. I take the kids out to recess and show them the Roman numerals noting when the building was built. My daughter Shira is graduating this year. She is of the first class to be there from 1st through 8th grade. It is really special. This is the only home they’ve ever known. I have taught there for five years in third grade and as a science teacher for first through fourth grades. The girls learn a lot. It’s so sweet how they fill the auditorium with song for the special milestone events that each grade celebrates. Before this building, the school was broken up with a few grades here and a few grades there. It was disjointed. Here we can be unified. The older girls impact the younger girls.”
Elisheva Baum, a Shulamith parent and local real estate agent, argues for how much Shulamith needs to remain at that property, “Shulamith School Long Island is a very close-knit school that provides young girls with a safe and supportive environment to learn and grow. The school fosters a strong sense of community among students, staff, and parents, promoting a supportive and inclusive environment. Shulamith should have this building. Finding a suitable property for a school can be a complex and challenging process, and it may require a comprehensive search and careful consideration of a number of factors such as size, location, and zoning. This location is already zoned for a school and it should continue to stay one.”
Malka Fishman, executive director at Shulamith, notes Shulamith’s continued dedication to the building, “We constantly remind teachers and faculty to be mindful of our neighbors and be aware that we are in a residential area. This building was built in 1929 and we have cared for it as if it were our own, as well as made many improvements. 305 has been our home for eight years and we cannot imagine being anywhere else. Please vote YES so Shulamith can buy the building and have a permanent home.”
Longtime respected school board trustee Dr. Asher Mansdorf concludes, “We want to be transparent. If people have questions, they are welcome to submit e-mails to the board at firstname.lastname@example.org, and those e-mails are responded to.”
Josh Justic notes the importance of this vote for the future of the Five Towns. “A possible alternative if the referendum fails is yet another high-density apartment building that will add more traffic, congestion, and noise to West Broadway, Central Avenue, and the surrounding area. Developers are working to ensure that this referendum fails so that they can change the zoning in their favor. We must not let them succeed. On the occasion of the Number 5 School referendum, the CC5T implores everyone to go out to vote. Please go out and vote on February 16 at Lawrence High School. Voting starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m.” n