The wandering Jews of the Seattle Hebrew Academy are moving again this fall.
As a temporary solution to keep the school running while earthquake damage is addressed, the Orthodox Jewish day school is splitting its student body in half this year. Middle-school students will be learning in portable classrooms on the Capitol Hill campus, while younger grades will be studying in portables in the parking lot of Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath Congregation in Seward Park. The Stroum Jewish Community Center Preschool meets in a newer wing of the SHA building on Capitol Hill, which was not damaged in the quake, and will continue to meet there in the fall.
The school’s ever-optimistic headmaster, Rabbi Shmuel Kay, says he still doesn’t know what the future will hold for the school, whose historic building was heavily damaged in last spring’s earthquake.
“We’re hoping there will be blessings here. The fact that we’re going to be in two campuses will help us develop our middle school into a separate entity,” Kay says. “I’m hoping that after it’s all said and done that we’ll be able to have a better campus than we ever had….Hopefully the crisis mode will be a way for all of us to band together.”
He’s happy with this year’s solution and confident the school’s volunteers and supporters will find a positive way to resolve their long-term delimma.
“The parents who live in Seward Park and have kids in Seward Park are obviously excited,” Kay says, adding that the portables are nicer than some of the school’s old classrooms. “Parents who live on the North End and have kids in Seward Park are not that happy.”
Transportation will be the biggest issue of the year, especially for parents who have kids at both sites. “The biggest tragedy for me is if we lose any children,” Kay says. “We definitely lost five or six children because of the shlepping factor, which is a tragedy in my opinion.” Some of the parents not sending their kids to SHA this year have chosen to send them to another Jewish school, which makes Kay happier than stories of kids missing out on a Jewish education because they can’t get a ride to SHA.
Many organizations are helping make the 2001–2002 school year a reality for SHA. Bikur Cholim-Machzikay Hadath is hosting the portables in its parking lot and other school activities in its social hall at no cost to SHA. Across the street, Sephardic Bikur Cholim has opened its parking lot to SHA teachers and the members of the Ashkenazic synagogue who will not have a place to park for events. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle and the Samis Foundation have both provided money to help pay for studies and equipment to keep the school going. The move will cost a total of about $500,000, including the cost to run some portables, buy others and transport the portables and build foundations at both sites. University Prep, which recently completed a construction project at its school, sold SHA four portables for $40,000, a highly discounted rate, according to Kay.
A committee led by SHA Board President Rebecca Almo is still in the process of exploring long-term solutions for the school. A number of community members, including architects, developers and other experts, are helping to assess whether to repair the historic landmark or move elsewhere. “It’s going to cost us millions of dollars to fix our building. Knocking it down it not so simple; it’s a historic building,” Kay explains. “We’re really trying to spend a few months trying to analyze what we’re going to do and then have a campaign to pay for it.”
In March, school officials estimated that to repair earthquake damage and bring the 1909 Seattle Hebrew Academy building up to the modern earthquake code could cost between $2.5 and $5 million.
The nearly four-acre property was appraised at $5.8 million before the 6.8 magnitude quake on Feb. 28. The school does not have earthquake insurance, and government assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Act has not been forthcoming.
The building was more severely damaged than first thought. After opening up some walls, structural damage was uncovered in the building built to earthquake codes of the 1900s, with unreinforced masonry walls — no steel, just bricks and mortar. Almo said no earthquake preparedness improvements have been done since the building was first constructed.