Brandeis gets room to grow by purchasing campus, JCC

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After 30 years of renting and leasing space, San Francisco's Brandeis Hillel Day School is taking control of its destiny with plans to purchase its campus at 655 Brotherhood Way as well as the JCC building next door.

According to Rabbi Henry Shreibman, head of Brandeis schools in San Francisco and San Rafael, the sale — which should be completed in January — will help alleviate the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco's $1.6 million deficit while giving Brandeis a permanent home.

"We've been the wandering Jews for 30 years," Shreibman said.

Brandeis rented space at San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel before moving to its current location in 1983. The school owns the Frank and Jennie Gauss Campus and Normal Nadler Family Courtyard on Brotherhood Way. The JCC owns the land as well as its own building next to the school.

"By becoming owner of the property [and JCC building], we can serve more Jewish students while continuing to provide the best possible scholastic environment," Shreibman said.

Brandeis will purchase the JCC building and Brotherhood Way property of 1.9 acres for $1.8 million: $1.2 million upfront in a lump sum, the remaining $600,000 to be paid off over the next 15 years.

The board of directors of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation's Endowment Fund agreed last week to grant Brandeis $500,000 and to loan the school $700,000 to help facilitate the purchase. The loan is valid for one year. Upon expiration, Brandeis must secure its own financing.

"This is not the first time we've helped an area day school," said federation executive vice president Wayne Feinstein. "We're impressed with how Brandeis has grown and how it's handled its affairs. This is a way of helping secure their future."

The Brotherhood Way JCC has scaled down its services considerably during the last several years. A JCC early-childhood program remains there as well as two Brandeis classrooms, administration offices and school storage.

Brandeis plans to use the newly acquired space to centralize its campus.

Kindergarten students are currently learning in modules located behind the school. Middle-school students attend classes in rented rooms at nearby Church of Christ. By purchasing the JCC land and building, Brandeis not only will be able keep all its San Francisco students together but will have room to grow.

"Our goal is to have two full classes of grades kindergarten through eighth in one place. The federation and [its endowment fund] have worked together to make our dream a reality," Shreibman said.

Meanwhile, the JCC early-childhood program, which each year serves between 60 and 100 children ages 2 to 4, will rent space from Brandeis and continue operating.

Shreibman could not comment on any other plans for the land and building.

He won't rule out the eventual addition of a high school. "I know the community would support it," he said. The federation grant and loan aren't earmarked for such purposes, however. And Brandeis doesn't want to pass along new costs to parents.

For now, committees of parents, teachers and consultants are developing a plan for long-term development, which includes a capital campaign.

According to Shreibman, Brandeis was exploring options to expand before the JCC offered its land and building in October of this year.

Because enrollment at both campuses had jumped from 350 to 450 in four years, and because there were waiting lists for both campuses, Brandeis already was involved in long-range planning. About 290 students attend the S.F. campus; 160 are enrolled at the Marin campus, which was upgraded in the late 1980s.

In 1994, Brandeis hired an independent school consultant to determine the best way of meeting its goals. Since then, working with Berger Detmer Architects, a San Francisco firm, the school has upgraded its gym, front field, kindergarten modules, security system, library, art, science and computer studios.

Meanwhile, Shreibman anticipates fleshing out a complete plan to further utilize the new space during the next three to five years. The JCF is expected to be involved at each level.

"I like the idea of incremental growth," Shreibman said. "We're not leaping into anything."