It’s back to the future, real estate style, for the popular Upper West Side congregation B’nai Jeshurun.
The Abraham Joshua Heschel School and BJ, as the shul is popularly known, have reached a deal for the sale of the Heschel School building, located at 270 W. 89th St.
Both parties declined to disclose the sale price; however BJ has successfully raised $20 million through a capital campaign to fund the purchase of the adjacent property. They expect to sign a contract early in the year.
In a serendipitous twist of fate, the 89th Street building currently housing Heschel’s preschool and elementary school was built by BJ, which occupied the space until the early 1980s.
At the time, BJ’s membership had dwindled to only 50 families, and the congregation needed the money to pay off debts, says Harold Goldman, BJ’s executive director. (While the deed does not record a sale price, Heschel took out a $1.4 million mortgage when it bought the property in 1984).
The congregation had been eyeing its old property since September 2009, when Heschel announced that chemical titan Ronald Stanton had donated the lead gift of $33 million toward the pluralistic Jewish day school’s $100 million One Campus Campaign. Earlier this month, the school hosted a groundbreaking ceremony where it displayed renderings of the 135,000-square-foot K-8 building that is being built adjacent to its high school on West End and 61st Street. The single campus will accommodate more than 1,000 students.
“It’s a terrific school and they’ve gone through wonderful growth,” says Goldman of The Heschel School, adding that many BJ members send their children there. “There is a very longstanding relationship between BJ and Heschel.”
BJ has long been challenged for space. The congregation, which now boasts 4,000 members, holds its Shabbat morning services at the Church of Saint Paul & Saint Andrew on 86th Street, since its current sanctuary can only seat close to 1,000 people. In addition to renting space in the Heschel building for its Hebrew school, the BJ offices are located in The Ansonia, an apartment building on Broadway.
The 89th Street building, which will become BJ’s Community House, will allow the congregation to consolidate and expand its services to the community, while saving on the cost of rent. The congregation plans to use some of the new space for brit milahs, baby namings, and bar and bat mitzvah celebrations, as well as weddings. There will be a small chapel in the new building for daily minyan services, which will be used for children’s services on Shabbat.
After the sale, the Heschel School plans to lease the building back from BJ until fall 2012, at the earliest.
“This will give us the chance to plan how we want to use the building,” Goldman says. “We will revisit our vision and mission in relation to acquiring the building and engage the entire community in the dreaming process for how this space will be used.”