WEST HARTFORD, CT – On Jan. 3, when the students of the Hebrew High School of New England returned to classes after their winter break, they didn’t go back to the basement of Agudas Achim Synagogue – they moved into their new home – the brand new Grinspoon – Konover Building on Bloomfield Avenue in West Hartford.
Fifteen years in the planning, the new building, on The Pava Family Campus, is located across from the Zachs Campus and Mandell Jewish Community Center. It sits on 11 acres formerly owned by the University of Hartford and the former site of the U of H Alumni House.
The new 33,000 square-foot building – made possible through donations by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and Simon and Doris Konover — features state of the art classrooms, three college level science labs, a free-standing art and music building, and high level security.
The total price tag of the project, including the cost of the land, design and construction, and soft costs and furnishings, is $6.8 million.
A grand-opening for the new school building was held on Jan. 9. A dedication and ribbon-cutting was held and around 600 people from around the community, including dignitaries like West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka.
“We are very excited about this. We have been planning this for the last 15 years,” Rabbi Shimmy Trencher, Dean of Students, said.”What makes HHNE really special is not the building, it is what goes on in the building. But we know that with this facility we are going tobe able to take what we have and make it somuch better – not only more attractive and able to entice more people to come in to see what we have to offer – but we will also be able to expand our programming.”
A DREAM FULFILLED
Jeremy Pava, newly elected president of the Hebrew High School, and his wife, Ann, have been passionately involved in the high school since its inception. Both were highly involved in the founding of the school –planning the creation of the school when the oldest of their three children was only in kindergarten.
He recalls that on the evening the first formal meeting to discuss forming a Jewish high school was scheduled, Ann went into labor with their daughter, Devorah – now an HHNE sophomore.”To show how meshugenah we were, I said, ‘Well, maybe I can still get to the meeting…’” he laughed.
Neither Pava attended the meeting, but both have remained highly involved in the school and the new building. Ann served as the school’s first president.
“It was always a dream to have our own building and through the years there were different options,” Pava explained. “But this building is beyond what we ever expected. It is in an awesome location along the river with scenic park-like grounds and in close proximity to the JCC and the Hebrew Home to make those resources accessible to the students. It is the perfect setting for the school’s new home.”
A SENSE OF COMMUNITY
Getting into their new home came just in the nick of time .HHNE and its 79 current students have outgrown the space in the Agudas Achim building. The goal is for enrollment to hit 120 within the next few years. The school has a capacity of 200 students.
Ben Ellinberg, a junior at HHNE attended arecent tour of the school.
“It is overwhelming. I was here when they were still laying the groundwork, so to come here and see the second floor and everything done is just amazing.”
Jodi Salzberg, a senior at the school, said that she feels nostalgic about leaving the old classrooms at Agudas Achim, but she is looking forward to spending time in the new building.
“There is definitely a sense of community there that will come with us to our new home, which is nice,” Salzberg said. “This new school gives uso pportunities to expand on everything that we started there.
“Supported by the Jewish Federations of Greater Hartford, Western Massachusetts and New Haven, HHNE students currently come from 23 feeders chools and from every Jewish denomination. The school offers a Mechina program to aid students with little or no Jewish education.
Pava said that having its own building is important to the continuing growth of HHNE.
“It will really help to enhance the educational programming and to upgrade educational opportunities for the kids,” he said. “But also it will make it more attractive and hopefully make the decision easier for parents to send their children to a Jewish high school.”