A quarter of Jefferson-Pilot's New Garden property will become home to a private Jewish boarding school.
A private Jewish boarding school for high school students is being planned for 100 acres of Jefferson-Pilot's high-profile New Garden Road property, with the land purchase made possible by a small group of anonymous donors from Greensboro's Jewish community.
The purchase will enable the founding of the American Hebrew Academy, which hopes to have a ninth grade class in place by fall 1999. One grade will be added in each successive year. The school will first draw students from Greensboro and later recruit students nationally.Tuition costs and school enrollment have yet to be determined.
``This is a one-of-a-kind school,' said Glenn Drew, a lawyer and spokesman for the group. ``While you can search this country and find parochial schools for different religions, to the best of my knowledge you cannot find a traditional boarding school for the Jewish faith.'
The location of the nonprofit boarding school on one of Greensboro's most valuable and controversial pieces of undeveloped land underscores the significance of the project.
For more than two years, New Garden area residents fought Jefferson-Pilot over its plans for its pristine 420-acre parcel. The fierce battle seemed to define Greensboro's ambivalence toward economic development, and made a pariah out of one of the city's most prominent corporate citizens.
After both sides sued each other, a compromise plan that reduced the overall density of the development was agreed to last April.
With the American Hebrew Academy purchasing 100 acres - nearly 25 percent of the total parcel - the density of the JP property will be further reduced. The school will occupy land along Jefferson Road now zoned for offices (23 acres), town houses (37 acres) and single-family homes (40 acres). No new zoning is required.
``The design of the campus will be truly a parklike setting with a significant emphasis placed on preserving the natural areas,' Drew said. ``We will keep natural buffers around the perimeter of the property, and access will be limited to one or two entrances.'
Although a contract to buy the land was signed Wednesday, the Jewish group has not yet hired an architect to design its school and boarding homes. A small synagogue also may be planned for the site, Drew said. Traffic on the campus will be geared toward pedestrians and bicycles, and the adjacent lake will be a focal point for campus design.
Mary Moon, who lives in nearby Jefferson Gardens and participated in the fight against JP, was incredulous when told Thursday about the plans for the 100 acres.
``It seems like an extremely positive idea for keeping with the neighborhood theme and keeping the beauty of the land,' she said. ``I wonder if we could encourage JP to sell the rest of the land this way!'
Next week, JP will deed 26 acres of its New Garden land to the Guilford County Schools, as previously promised. The land will be used to build an elementary school and public soccer fields. The insurance company also is negotiating with companies interested in developing the 80 acres along New Garden Road zoned for office and retail use.
Drew declined to identify the Greensboro donors underwriting the land purchase and founding of the boarding school. He also declined to disclose the land purchase price.
However, because JP sold the 100 acres at market value, it's likely that land costs alone exceed $5 million, based on the overall estimated value of the JP's New Garden property.
``In the Jewish tradition, the highest form of charity is to give anonymously,' said Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro, who has been consulted about the project. He said the donors are committed to remaining anonymous.
Mayor Carolyn Allen, who recently learned about the boarding school and agreed to serve on its community advisory board, praised the project.
``I think this is a very fine addition to a city that is already blessed with a very excellent education spectrum,' she said. ``The Hebrew Academy brings another dimension to our educational scene that very few places are fortunate to have.'
The idea for a Jewish high school in Greensboro began about three years ago with a small group men and woman with children ranging in age from preschool to college graduates. Their motivating force was simple: to fill a void.
``The ultimate reason this came about is because Jewish families who wanted their children to continue their Jewish education could not do so after the eighth grade,' Drew said. ``Unlike communities with much larger Jewish populations that have Jewish high school day programs, that program doesn't exist in Greensboro.'
Susan Cook heads B'nai Shalom, the Jewish day school in Greensboro that enrolls children from age three through the eighth grade. The school has 187 students, including 11 students in the eighth grade and eight students in the seventh grade.
``On the national level, I've been witness to this growing trend toward Jewish day schools for the American Jewish community,' Cook said. ``With the current rise in enrollment in Jewish day (primary) schools, there has come a demand for Jewish high schools.'
Rabbi Guttman, who said both Jewish congregations in Greensboro are growing rapidly, sees the desire for Jewish secondary education as part of a reawakening among Jewish adults.
``I think Jews are rediscovering their roots and finding a lot of meaning in Jewish culture and religion and heritage,' Guttman said. ``Jewish spirituality is based on bringing God's presence into the here and now. I really think we are experiencing a religious reawakening among American Jews.'
About 18 months ago, the Greensboro group began looking for land in both the city and county. Greensboro attorney Jim Phillips later assisted the group in its search.
About a year ago, Drew said he approached Jay Yelton, JP's chief investment officer who was leading the negotiations with the New Garden residents. They discussed some options, but Yelton and Drew did not begin seriously discussing a land purchase until last fall.
``My attorneys here told me that in their opinion, the existing zoning was compatible with the use proposed,' Yelton said. ``So we started to talking with them. Before long, we were able to reach mutually agreeable terms.'
With a signed contract to buy the land, Drew said the American Hebrew Academy is now turning its attention to developing policies and curriculum for the school, and how to develop the land. A preliminary search for a headmaster is under way.
Drew said he hopes to have at least 25 students in the first freshman class, with most coming from the Greensboro and the Triad. The boarding component will be necessary because Greensboro's Jewish community isn't large enough to fill an entire school, he said.
``We plan to have a high-level secular curriculum with courses and extracurricular offerings similar to other top private schools,' Drew said. ``And there will be required study in Hebrew, Jewish history and theology.
``Students will also be given an opportunity to travel to Israel to gain a sense of their Jewish identity.'
Although tuition costs are unknown at this point, they will likely be very expensive, given the school's commitment to state-of-the-art educational resources, science equipment and computers. It's possible the school will accept non-Jewish students as well.
``We want to create student houses that are more like homes than dormitories,' Drew added. ``Students will live with faculty members and their families. Part of the boarding school experience is not just educational, but in creating a sense of camaraderie with the people you live with.'
Although no market studies have been done to gauge the demand for a Jewish boarding high school, Cook, of B'nai Shalom, said attracting students should not be difficult.
``When word got out a year ago that we were considering this, I got a call from a family in Denver that wanted an application for their son,' she said. ``We've also received several calls from the Raleigh-Durham area. I think the demand will be there.'
ON THE BOARD
Board members of American Hebrew Academy Inc.
Glenn Drew, attorney, Fortress RE Inc.
Bill Cassell, private developer, Cassell Properties
Victor Ackerman, retired furniture executive with Bernards Inc. of High Point.
Freddy Robinson, certified public accountant, Bernard Robinson & Co.
Chico Sabbah, chairman, Fortress RE Inc.
Rabbi Eli Havivi, Beth David Synagogue
Rabbi Fred Guttman, Temple Emanuel