The Jewish Community Association has taken steps to bring Pardes Jewish Day School onto the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus, and executives of both the association and the day school express optimism about the plan, while stressing that many details remain to be worked out.
The broad outlines of the situation, given to Jewish News by Stuart Wachs, the association’s CEO and president, involve the transfer of ownership of the former Jess Schwartz Academy building to the community campus’ limited liability corporation (an arm of the association), improvements to the building and a capital campaign to fund them, sale of Pardes’ current campus, and the possibility of rezoning or finding another means to increase the school’s capacity on the campus in Scottsdale.
The Jess Schwartz Academy closed at the end of the 2010-11 academic year, and the building at 12753 N. Scottsdale Road has been leased by the academy to Lexis Preparatory School since then.
“We’re working very hard to be able to relocate for the 2014-2015 school year,” said Jill Kessler, head of school at Pardes, which is currently located in northeast Phoenix. She said that it was the association that approached Pardes officials about the potential move.
When merger talks with the Jess Schwartz school failed to produce a merger several years ago, Kessler said, “We just went on happily here, but the opportunity (the association offered) to be on a Jewish campus made total sense.”
Wachs said that shortly after his arrival a year ago, the association “began looking at the campus and the fact that there used to be a day school here — unfortunately, that didn’t work out — and that we were missing some vitality. So we began discussions with Pardes’ leadership about did they have a desire, if everything could work out, to possibly come here. At that point, they said, ‘Maybe.’ ”
Wachs said that the association had also begun talks with Sheila Schwartz, after whose late husband the academy was named, and Marcia Weisberg, the academy’s board chair.
“They were very open because of their passion for Jewish education and the campus,” he said. The association and the academy, he said, are in full agreement on the transfer of ownership.
In a statement, the association and the academy said: “With this exciting initiative, the leadership of Jess Schwartz is clearing the path for the association to take the eventual ownership of the property and to work with Pardes to bring a community Jewish day school back to the campus and explore future opportunities for a Jewish high school.”
Although Wachs expressed the association’s strong desire to have Pardes on the campus for the start of the 2014-2015 school year, he said there are still many details to be worked out, and Kessler, in a separate interview, agreed.
Enrollment at Pardes is about 290, Kessler said, and the former Jess Schwartz site is zoned for an enrollment capacity of 250. This will require some action, ranging from asking Scottsdale to rezone the land to possibly expanding onto land where a Jewish community high school had been slated to be built on the southeast end of the campus, which would automatically increase the capacity, according to Wachs.
Kessler said that a potential buyer has expressed interest in Pardes’ campus even though it has yet to be put on the market. “We’ll see where that goes,” she said. “Their need to have the school would (come) exactly when we would be vacating.”
The move to the Scottsdale campus would make the school a tenant rather than an owner, she said.
“We bought at the height of the market here,” she said of the Phoenix campus. “For our long-term financial sustainability, a 50-year rolling lease is in the best long-term financial interests of Pardes.”
At present, Pardes and the association have a letter of understanding regarding the potential move, and Kessler said, “The JCA has 45 days in which they have to tell us what our lease payments would be. We feel, in our preliminary talks, that this would be something we can handle.”
She said that if all the other details of the move go forward, then six new classrooms would be built on the Scottsdale campus to accommodate Pardes’ enrollment.
Both she and Wachs expressed excitement over the synergies that such a move would provide.
“We’re most excited about the ability to work cooperatively and collaboratively with all the different agencies housed in the campus building,” she said, envisioning student visits and programs in the Bureau of Jewish Education’s library, establishing an intergenerational program, working with the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center’s preschool and camps, and working with Council for Jews With Special Needs.
“Pardes, in our conversations, recognizes the amazing synergies that can happen, even though they have a nice facility now,” Wachs said. “By coming here, there’s tremendous facilities (available). It’s a plus for Pardes, it’s a plus for the JCC. ... For Pardes, now all of a sudden, they (would) have much more green space and fields, use of a pool and a gymnasium, and even a fitness center, and the vitality that could happen, of having that all on campus, really could lend to an even greater experience for the kids.”
Wachs said that the Lexis school is aware of the efforts to bring Pardes into the facility and has been a good partner in these discussions. Should it take longer than the next school year to line up all the “moving parts,” as Wachs called them, Lexis has expressed its desire to stay however long the space is available.
Asked what reaction she expected from parents, Kessler said that based on location such a move would be convenient for many of the currently enrolled families, so “I believe that the majority of our parents will be very, very pleased.”
Of those for whom the Scottsdale campus would create transportation issues, she said, “We’ll work very hard to help them with alternative means. Our goal is to retain 100 percent of our students.”