Hillel Academy plans move to Oakwood

Hillel Academy plans move to Oakwood, April 2010 Observer

Photo: Marshall Weiss
Hillel Academy Jewish day school hopes to relocate from its campus in Harrison Township to Beth Abraham Synagogue (above) at Sugar Camp in Oakwood

Day school hopes to open 2010-11 school year at Beth Abraham Synagogue

By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer

Pending Oakwood City Council’s approval on April 5 (the seventh day of Passover), Hillel Academy will move from its Harrison Township campus to the third floor of the Conservative congregation this summer, in time for the coming school year.

If all goes as planned, the Jewish day school will become the fourth Jewish community organization at Sugar Camp in Oakwood, joining Beth Abraham, the Miami Valley Mikvah, and Sinai High, a project of the Sinai Scholars program.

On March 3, the Oakwood Planning Commission voted to recommend that Oakwood City Council approve Beth Abraham’s special use request for Hillel’s relocation. And on March 18, the board of Beth Abraham Synagogue approved Hillel’s prospective move to its facility.

According to Dr. Adam Waldman, president of Hillel, the school formally began looking at relocating to Dayton’s south suburbs in 2007.

With steadily declining enrollment and mounting financial difficulties, Hillel explored moving to the Jewish Federation’s Boonshoft Center for Jewish Culture and Education campus in Centerville.

The prospect of relocating to the CJCE, with an estimated price tag of $3.5 million, was too costly.

“Essentially, the fund-raising environment proved to be pretty difficult to re-purpose the area we’d use,” Waldman said. “We actually looked at the Beth Abraham campus prior to the Federation campus. One of the great things about Beth Abraham is that they have a great location relative to our current student population and hopeful future student population, and they have a gorgeous new building which they recently purchased and rehabbed.”

Waldman said Hillel looked at all Dayton-area synagogues to determine its best relocation option.

David Fuchsman, president of Beth Abraham — and a past president of Hillel — said Beth Abraham’s board overwhelmingly gave him the go-ahead to sign the special use application request, and to explore what such a move would entail.

“I’m trying to move this along as quickly but reasonably as possible,” Fuchsman said. “You don’t want to rush into anything and make mistakes, but on the other hand, you’ve got to let these parents know what’s going on so they can plan for the year ahead.”

During his presentation to the Oakwood Planning Commission, Fuchsman explained the impetus for Jewish organizations to gravitate toward Dayton’s south suburbs.

“The Jewish population has changed dramatically over the past couple decades,” he said. “Where the Jewish population was almost exclusively in the city of Dayton and north of the city, more and more of the population has shifted to the Oakwood, Kettering, Centerville and Springboro areas. We find that although there’s still a substantial population north, as people move to the Dayton area, they are much more likely to move to the south of downtown and that prompted, frankly, the move of Beth Abraham (in 2008). And Hillel finds itself in the same position.”

Currently, Hillel Academy has 34 students in grades K-eight. Of those, 17 live in the south suburbs and 17 in the north.

The planned move to Beth Abraham calls for Hillel to occupy the third floor of the synagogue. Beth Abraham’s religious school, with an enrollment of 19 students, meets there on Sundays.

“One of the beauties of when we bought this building,” Fuchsman said, “was we didn’t have to do much to the third floor because it was already classrooms. And there’s a very large multi-purpose room in the middle of the third floor, where I could envision they (Hillel) would have meals and indoor games.”

The maximum capacity for students on the third floor, Fuchsman said, is 50. He said the Beth Abraham board will determine how Hillel will pay for its costs.

“It wouldn’t be rent,” Fuchsman said, “because I think to charge rent would have effects as far as our tax-exemption status.”

Hillel’s prospective move to Beth Abraham is a homecoming of sorts; when the Jewish day school was established in 1962, the school was based at Beth Abraham at Salem Avenue and Cornell Drive – alternating over the years with Beth Jacob Synagogue – until Hillel’s move to its current campus in 1973.

In 1977, Hillel expanded and added a high school; declining enrollment led Hillel to close its ninth through 11th grades in 1999 and its 12th grade in 2000.

One component of Hillel’s current program that won’t continue with an Oakwood move will be its preschool program, which now serves five children.

“We always anticipated that if we move from north to central or south, that we wouldn’t want to have a preschool as opposed to the Federation preschool,” Waldman said.
The Federation’s DJCC Early Childhood Program is located at the CJCE.

Waldman said that Hillel hasn’t yet decided if it will continue to offer classes up to eighth grade or only go up to sixth.

“We’re still working on our reorganization plans and we’re going to be in a period of transition next year,” he said. “If we were going to be something less than K to eight, we definitely want to make it so that current students can transition in an easy way.”

Waldman also said that Hillel has prospective buyers for its Harrison Township campus.
“Our education is really about our students and teachers and parents, and less about where we’re located,” he added. “But having said that, the more central you can be and reduce people’s commutes, and make it easier for people to come to your school, the better.”

“In this case,” Fuchsman said, “we have a chance to help save Hillel, which I think is hugely important to the whole community.”

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