Two new school buildings help build community

Students at two Los Angeles Modern Orthodox schools — Gindi Maimonides Academy and Shalhevet High School — will soon begin their first full year in brand-new spaces.
August 13, 2015

Students at two Los Angeles Modern Orthodox schools — Gindi Maimonides Academy and Shalhevet High School — will soon begin their first full year in brand-new spaces.

Maimonides introduced its building to students, staff and faculty this past March. The 50,000-square-foot space on La Cienega Boulevard just north of the Beverly Center cost $20 million and stands four stories tall (not including an underground parking garage), according to the school’s principal, Rabbi Aharon Wilk. 

Although the school has existed since 1968, it needed improvements to better serve its student body, Wilk said, adding that the new building has made an incredible difference already.

“Since we moved, there has been a tremendous boost in the energy level and the spirit,” he said. “It … got intense at times when we were shopping for furniture, picking out the colors and trying to stay within the budget. You hope you pick the right things. The whole time, you’re imagining the students walking in on day one and sitting at their desks. That first day was unbelievable. I’ll never forget that.”

The building will serve about 280 children in grades three through eight, most of whom were previously schooled at a location on West Pico Boulevard. The school of 500 also has a campus on Huntley Drive for children in preschool through second grade. 

Maimonides’ new and returning students will have access to a synagogue, a beit midrash, a sports center, outdoor spaces and two science labs. Toward the end of last school year, students were using a new innovation center to construct Rube Goldberg machines, design apps and edit films. The school still plans to install woodworking and power tools, as well as green screens. 

“The students appreciate that we create an environment in which they can try to succeed,” Wilk said.

Seth Berkowitz, a parent of three Maimonides students and three alumni, said the school has made incredible upgrades.

“The new building is magnificent,” he said. “When my kids started out, they were in this cobbled-together building that couldn’t accommodate them and their needs. Now, the architecture and the space do more than meet their needs. It can inspire the next generation of kids to learn in a different kind of way. It’ll make a large difference in this generation of kids.

“My daughter now has her own locker, which was a rite of passage,” Berkowitz continued. “She developed a lot of confidence because of that.” 

At Shalhevet, which will debut its new construction this school year, staff hope the space itself will contribute to a philosophical goal, according to Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal. “The building fosters a community, and the way it’s designed, students are at the center of it,” he said.

Shalhevet High School’s new space includes a gym (pictured) with an additional outdoor artificial turf field on the roof, two science labs, a dedicated robotics area and more. Photo courtesy of Shalhevet High School

For the past school year, the school of more than 180 students operated out of the Westside Jewish Community Center while construction proceeded on its $12 million digs near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. 

Like Maimonides, Shalhevet will now have two science labs, along with an area for robotics-building. There are communal spaces and lounges, and the new building will offer more athletic opportunities, too, as it will now include a gymnasium. 

“In our athletics program, we were always at the mercy and [in] need of other spaces,” Segal said. “This will give us a lot more control over our schedule. It has a very positive domino effect on all aspects of the building.” 

For additional exercise time, there’s also an outdoor artificial turf field on the roof. Segal said it could be used by students to throw the ball around at lunchtime or to play flag football. 

Shalhevet’s 50,000-square-foot previous building was originally a single-story hospital. Instead of pursuing renovations, the school sold its southern building to Alliance Residential developers for about $14 million and built a three-story building on the north side of the property. 

Shalhevet parent Mark Rothman, whose son Noah is going into the 11th grade, called the new building “phenomenal,” but added that it’s the intention behind the project that matters. 

“The building makes a tremendous comment about the school’s long-term commitment to education and to the Jewish community,” he said. “Our use will be limited, but we believe in what Shalhevet represents and we’re excited to see it continue well after our children have graduated.”

Noah said he is excited about a few physical aspects of the building, including the gym, the beit midrash and the terrace. “I’m looking forward to being able to toss the ball outside on the roof, looking out at the view and hanging out with my friends there,” he said. 

Fred Toczek, who has two children at Shalhevet, said the new facility will provide unique learning opportunities and technological improvements. 

“It will be a really nice space for students to interact with each other and faculty,” he said.

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