The roofers’ hammers boomed overhead on a recent Wednesday as Rabbi Gavriel Goetz, head of school for Yeshiva High School of Arizona, explained that the YHSA’s new building and first permanent home should be open sometime this fall.
Paul Stark, the lead contractor for the project and founder and CEO of P. Stark Builders Inc., added that the permits have been received and most of the framing and electrical work was already complete.
In fact, though the studs and wires were still exposed on this day, most of the construction necessary to transform and expand the 3,800-square-foot single-family residence into a 5,000-square-foot school was already finished. When it’s done, the building will boast a large central room to serve as the study hall and sanctuary, multiple classrooms, administrative offices, a kitchen, and even a basketball court and soccer field. In addition, there will be all new electrical, plumbing, security and HVAC systems, as well as a new roof.
“Basically, we’ve kept the bones of the house intact,” Stark said. “We’ve converted the different spaces so that they’ll work for the high school. By the time we’re done, it will look like a brand new structure.”
Standing in what will someday be the teachers’ lounge, Goetz explained how the efforts of numerous community members led to the YHSA acquiring and renovating the property. He noted that the dumpsters for the project were provided free of charge by Friedman Recycling, and that other community partners also donated services and materials.
The all-boys school first opened its doors in 2010. Since then, its enrollment has nearly doubled. Prior to the opening of YHSA and Shearim Torah High School for Girls, Jewish parents who wanted their children to attend a full-time Orthodox high school had to send them out of state.
David Segal, YHSA board president, knows that firsthand. When he and his four sisters attended high school in the 1970s, they went all the way to Denver. Segal’s own sons, who attended high school in the early ’00s, also went out of state. Segal didn’t want other families to have to make this difficult decision, which was part of his impetus for getting involved with YHSA.
“We look forward to having a home of our own building and not having to rent a facility,” Segal said. “The property that we bought will accommodate our growth for the next several years. We have room to both grow up and out.”
Goetz said that the current space, which the school rents, has served them well, but that they need more room to accommodate their expanding enrollment and outdoor exercise and play facilities for students.
The process of searching for a property began in earnest about four years ago. Goetz was speaking with one of the school’s teachers about how much money they would need to acquire and renovate a property.
“He said, ‘If that’s what you need to make it happen, I’ll lend it to you,’” said Goetz, who was stunned by the offer. “He did it because he wants to help the community.”
The school wanted a building that would be located near the heart of the growing Phoenix Orthodox community.
“The area from Seventh Avenue to 16th Street and from Glendale south to Camelback are really transforming into a place where there’s a presence of the Jewish community, and in particular an Orthodox Jewish community,” Stark said. “I’ve been here since ’76. The growth really picked up in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and I think particularly the Kollel is what started it,” he added. “There are several synagogues and temples in the area that let out around 11 o’clock. When they do, the streets are packed with little children in their strollers and parents. Everybody’s walking.”
Conscious of the environmental impact development has on a community, Stark said they tried to preserve what they could, both inside and outside the building. He noted that the building’s chimneys would remain, though only for decorative purposes, and that they preserved the wood ceiling in the sanctuary as well. He also pointed out a number of olive and jacaranda trees saved during the excavation and work on the outside of the building, which included the removal of roughly 400 yards of dirt and multiple tons of leach rock installed to ensure proper drainage.
Last Thursday, the school hosted a fundraiser for the project at the home of Sheila Schwartz. Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal
Center, attended as guest speaker. The school is still seeking donations. JN