The New England Jewish Academy celebrated the beginning of work on a 7,000 square-foot educational lower school wing.
By Stacey Dresner. Photos by Ronni Newton
Naty Katz, head of school for the New England Jewish Academy, welcomed members of the community to a groundbreaking ceremony Feb. 15 for a long-awaited 7,000-square-foot addition to the school’s campus in West Hartford.
“This is the day that God has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it,” he said.
“This is certainly a day of great celebration for our school as we are here, all together, on our beautiful campus,” Katz said. “Today we are putting shovels into the ground to launch the construction of the new educational wing.”
The school’s new wing has been in development for the past three years, to make space for the students of the former Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy of Greater Hartford with whom the former Hebrew High School of New England merged in 2019 to create NEJA, a preschool through grade 12 Orthodox Jewish Day School in West Hartford.
Students in the lower school (preschool through eighth grade) remained at Hebrew Academy’s Gabb Road building in Bloomfield for two years, before moving into the HHNE building at the beginning of this school year. A few renovations were done to accommodate the younger students on the building’s first floor.
The new wing will feature six new classrooms, including three state-of-the-art Reggio Emilia early childhood classrooms, a new playscape for the younger students, a secure outdoor learning center, a resource room, and a library designed for young readers.
The architect on the project is Phase Zero Design out of Simsbury, and the construction company is Van Horst Construction of East Hartford.
“When it comes to learning Torah, it is like a tree – you have to have strong roots. Without strong roots, your Jewish identity, your growth, your balance in life is challenging. That’s why we are all here today,” NEJA President Michael Black told the crowd. “We have a mission. We have a need in our community. We are about to add onto the school. We are going to have a state-of-the-art preschool. It is very exciting; more importantly it is going to be an opportunity for those roots to nourish.”
The current enrollment of the school is at 119 students. There are currently 17 students in the school’s preschool, Black told said, but with the new preschool classrooms, they are hoping for a jump in the school’s enrollment.
“The whole reason for the expansion and the addition of the three preschool classrooms is to provide a pipeline of students,” Black explained. “As the preschool grows, the school will grow.”
The total cost for the project is $3.2 million, Black said. So far, $2.2 million of that has been raised. There are plans for an endowment campaign fund that would bring in an additional $1 million for the upkeep of the school.
New England Jewish Academy serves students in the West Hartford, Greater New Haven, and Greater Springfield communities, and members of those communities were on hand to witness the groundbreaking for the new wing. In addition to the speeches and groundbreaking, the crowd was treated to a d’var Torah from NEJA high school student Miriam Newman, and songs in Hebrew and English performed by NEJA’s lower school students.
NEJA is supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, Jewish Federation of Western Mass., Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, Harold Grinspoon Foundation, Jewish Family Services, and the Pava Tuition Initiative. Through the Pava Tuition Initiative, subsidies are offered to all Kindergarten through 12th grade students: a $10,000 subsidy for all kindergarten, first grade, and high school students; $7,500 subsidies for second through fifth grade students; and $7,000 subsidies for sixth through eighth grade students.
NEJA will hold its 5th Annual Fundraising Dinner on Wednesday, March 1, at Beth El Temple in West Hartford. The evening will include a cocktail reception starting at 6 p.m. and dinner. The entertainment will include a Family Feud-style trivia game. RSVP here, email [email protected]; or call 860-231-0317.
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