September 22, 2019

YULA sees start of $16 million campus addition

gigantic hole in the ground some 15 feet deep is causing a tremendous amount of excitement in the Modern Orthodox community since digging began in December.

“I’ve treated it as one of my developments — as my baby,” said David Nagel, a real estate developer and president of the board at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) Boys High School.

Nagel stood wearing a hard hat during a recent visit to the future site of the YULA Campus Completion Project. The $16 million effort — including a 100-car, below-ground garage and a 400-seat gym and auditorium, along with labs, classrooms, a learning commons and an art studio — currently is a soggy dirt pit with reinforced walls adjacent to the existing campus.

But it’s also the beginning of a dream come true to outfit the Modern Orthodox school on Pico Boulevard with facilities that will expand the school’s footprint by more than 50 percent when the project is completed in May 2018.

“It has truly been a long, hard and expensive journey,” Nagel said during a March 19 groundbreaking celebration. “But that road has now been traveled, and we are now well on our way.”

Plans to add a gym have been in the works since the school was last remodeled in 2003. After Nagel joined the board eight years ago, he began working toward getting the city’s approval to move forward.

By the time Rabbi Arye Sufrin, now the school’s principal, joined YULA’s faculty about seven years ago, the rumor mills already were churning out talk that a spiffy new campus was in the works.

“I walk into school every day and it’s like, I can’t believe it — we’re almost at the finish line,” he said in an interview last month. “It’s pretty amazing.”

The new addition will feature a 9,000-square-foot gym — nearly large enough for two NBA-size courts — with bleacher seating for 400 and room for another 300 seats on the court. Both YULA Boys High School and its sister school for girls will have use of the facility.

In addition, three new classrooms will allow for future growth in the student population, which currently stands at 165. The project will also add innovation and robotics labs and a common area for students to work in groups.

According to Nagel, the school has raised $12 million of a $17.5 million capital campaign to fund the new building and upgrade the existing building so that it matches the decor, style and amenities of the addition.

“The fact that there’s 35 percent [of fundraising] to go, and we haven’t started building yet — we’re digging — that shows the support and excitement the community has,” Sufrin said. “As it should.”

“It’s a game changer for us in terms of bringing the campus to truly elite status,” Rabbi Dov Emerson, YULA Boys High School’s head of school, told the Journal.

Emerson said YULA’s mission is to provide an “uncompromising education” in both Judaic and general studies. “To have a campus that matches that [goal] is really significant,” he said.

Nagel, a prominent YULA donor who, as president and CEO of the Miracle Mile-based Decron Properties Corp., controls a $1.5 billion real estate empire, is widely recognized as the project’s mastermind.

Beginning in 2009, he shepherded plans for the addition through Los Angeles City Hall with the help of Councilmember Paul Koretz, whose district includes the school.

“Without his efforts, we know we wouldn’t be standing here today,” Koretz said of Nagel at the groundbreaking celebration.

The process of winning approval for the campus required a few key compromises. For instance, YULA agreed to install a cul-de-sac on Costello Drive off of Pico Boulevard to prevent school traffic from running through the residential neighborhood behind the campus.

A rendering of the YULA Campus Completion Project by Gruen Associates.Drawing courtesy of YULA Boys High School

A rendering of the YULA Campus Completion Project by Gruen Associates.Drawing courtesy of YULA Boys High School

The school spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers, architects and engineers to secure the proper permitting for the project, even before approaching donors to fund the construction, Nagel said.

But it was worth it, if only to give the school athletics facilities that match the prowess of its students, he said. YULA has won the national Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament, held by Yeshiva University, seven times, more than any other school, according to Nagel.

“People were amazed that for all these years, the school never had a gym. ‘How is it possible that they have such a great athletic program without a gym?’ ” he said.

However, Emerson and Sufrin emphasized that the addition would expand the school’s academic capacity across its range of student programs, supporting not just the general studies education but also religious celebrations and Torah classes, furthering the school’s Jewish studies mission. The campus redesign would put the beit midrash, its study and prayer hall, at the geographical center of the school — fitting, Sufrin said, since it is already the school’s heart and soul.