Hebrew Academy given $4 million for quake fix
Seattle Times staff reporter
Donors, students, faculty and trustees gathered on the blacktop of the Seattle Hebrew Academy on Capitol Hill yesterday to announce a $4 million grant from the Samis Foundation to repair damage to the school from the Nisqually earthquake.
The windfall donation from the longtime supporter of Jewish education marks the largest donation in the school's capital campaign to raise $12 million for earthquake repairs and other improvements.
"This is a historic moment for our community," said school principal Rabbi Schmuel Kay.
"This is one of the largest donations to an educational institution in the Northwest," said the academy's development director, Lucia Rosling Britts.
Although school officials estimate they need just $680,000 to bring the 1909 building up to code, they plan to spend a total of $7.5 million for seismic retrofitting and renovations. The February 2001 quake shook the main building on the 3.8-acre campus to its very foundation, rendering it uninhabitable.
Other projects on the docket include general remodeling, new computers and library equipment, and $3.4 million to seed an endowment.
To date, the school has raised $2.5 million from seven philanthropists. The Samis donation puts the campaign at $5 million in total funds, or $6.5 million in pledged funds.
Currently, students are split between two campuses seven miles apart. The middle school is held in four portable classrooms on the school's soccer field. The elementary school (kindergarten through fifth grades) convenes in rented portables behind a Seward Park synagogue. Only the nursery school — in a modern building on the main campus — stayed in the same place.
At first, the academy wasn't sure whether to fix, move or sell the property after the quake.
"One of the problems with this building is it's a historic landmark, which is both a blessing and a curse," said Samis trustee Eli Genauer.
The older school building was originally the Forest Ridge Convent. The academy purchased the school in 1973, and the property was recognized as a Seattle landmark by the Seattle City Council in 1979.
Ultimately, it was decided to raise the money privately to repair the damage. The renovated school could be reopened as early as 2004.
Although costly, the effects of the earthquake haven't been entirely negative. Parents have been good sports driving kids to different campuses, and teachers refer to their portable classrooms as cozy. Even the kids have thrived in their makeshift quarters.
"In some ways, it's been a good experience," said eighth-grader Yael Nov. "It's made the middle school a lot closer."
Sarah Anne Wright: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 206-464-2752.