November 18, 2009
Santa Clarita Jews Plan Cutting-Edge Center
The Jewish community of Santa Clarita Valley could take a big step forward next year. Plans for a new Southern California Center for Jewish Life (SCCJL) include a complex designed by renowned architect Hagy Belzberg with a new home for Temple Beth Ami as well as an independent community cultural center, a public Hebrew-language charter school, an early childhood education center and 140 senior apartments. Groundbreaking for the $54 million project on a 19-acre property approximately five minutes north of Granada Hills is planned for late 2010. With the current Jewish population of Santa Clarita reaching close to 20,000, the new center would fill a big gap in the emerging community, as well as attract newcomers.
Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami is spearheading the effort, and he launched his capital campaign during the High Holy Days with hopes for a 2013 completion date. Funding is being sought through a combination of private equity partners, donations and grants from government agencies for the school. To date, the synagogue has raised more than $700,000, which helped secure the land. The property is currently in escrow and slated to close once Belzberg’s design for the project is approved by Los Angeles County.
Blazer is taking a broad view of the project: “We have to look at what is going to be best for the community at large, not what is the best for my particular synagogue,” he said.
Belzberg has created an environmentally friendly design, with a carbon-free footprint. The architect, best known for designing the interior of Disney Hall and the planned new home of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, said the project will meet or exceed LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for environmental efficiency. The structure of the senior apartments, for example, will be prefabricated and then erected on site. Belzberg’s design will incorporate solar, geothermal and cogeneration (combined heat and power) technologies for heating and cooling. The interior will also integrate clean living with formaldehyde-free cabinets, soy-based paints and recycled glass for countertops.
The plan is for revenue generated from the senior apartments to support continued growth for other programs. The SCCJL board has had discussions with the Los Angeles Jewish Home regarding management of the housing, but is also exploring other possibilities. The decision to include seniors as part of the project is part of a desire to create a varied and multigenerational center.
“The symbiotic relationship that will exist between two generations is the first of its kind,” Belzberg said.
A Hebrew-language charter school, the first in California, already was planned to open at a temporary site in 2010. Like all charter schools, the school will operate as a public school, funded through government grants and fundraising, but will be independently operated. It will offer a curriculum in Hebrew, but by law cannot teach religion.
A similar Hebrew-language charter school, the nation’s first, is Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood, Fla. It opened in August 2007 with more than 500 students in grades K-8 and plans to expand to high school in 2010. Following a similar model, the charter Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., opened in fall 2009 with 150 kindergarten and first-graders. It plans to eventually enroll 450 students in grades K-five.
The Hebrew charter in the SCCJL complex, named the Albert Einstein Academy, is planned to serve students in grades seven through 12. Students will study two foreign languages, chosen from Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish and Arabic. The first language will be required for four years and the second language for a minimum of two.
The ambitious SCCJL plans also include a mikveh, art center, library, fitness center, kosher banquet hall and the North Valley Jewish Community Center. The NVJCC, which will be renamed The-J, will have a role in the project, beginning in January 2010, managing Temple Beth Ami’s preschool.
The-J will offer full-fledged childcare Monday through Friday, with extended daycare, and will not require synagogue affiliation, in hopes of attracting new families. North Valley JCC Executive Director Jerry Wayne said the center plans to transition from managing just the preschool to becoming the managing agency for the SCCJL’s programming for all age groups once the project is completed. Mark Kaplan, chairman of the project’s capital campaign, said he expects the completed project to become a destination, both for its architecture and its programs, helping to grow community and to give the community a place to gather in many different forms.
“We hope the SCCJL will become a blueprint on how to create communities here and abroad,” Kaplan said.