Jewish day schools start 2020 in new University City location

Epstein Hebrew Academy students Ezra Cohen (left) and Jack Wertman take in an art class led by Morah Baila Shulman at right. 

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

The last week of December 2019 was a time-out for most people, a final period of rest and relaxation. Not so for the staff, faculty and volunteers at H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy. A two-week marathon of packing, moving and unpacking occurred during a short winter break. Without missing a beat, the Modern Orthodox Jewish day school reopened in its new home in University City promptly on Monday, Jan. 6.

Epstein Hebrew Academy’s move from its former Olivette location at 1138 N. Warson Road to the new 8645 Old Bonhomme Road location was largely transparent to students, who reported for class in the new year, ready to check out their new classrooms.

Originally, the Old Bonhomme location was a public school, built in 1958. There’s something in the bones of the building that are perhaps meant to be a place of learning. For it began small and gradually expanded to three levels. For decades, it was home to UCP Heartland, which offered education and independent living services to people living with disabilities.

The former Epstein Hebrew Academy location will be transformed into the Miriam Foundation’s Miriam Academy. It was a 70,000-square foot building, whereas the new University City Epstein Hebrew Academy checks in at 21,000 square feet. The building also houses Yeshivat Kadimah High School, as did the former Olivette location.

A smooth transition to the new facility required a bit of ingenuity, according to Rabbi Moshe Shulman, head of school.

“One of the things we did creatively was we took all the books and shelving from the library and installed a modular system to maximize space,” Shulman said during a tour of the new facilities last week.

In some larger rooms, two classrooms are divided by a modular shelf that has a dual purpose—physical separation of classrooms and storage for school supplies. Every room is used to maximum efficiency, including storage space in closets.

The building didn’t require much retrofitting to get ready for classes, which was a blessing after the short window for the move. Small touches are still a work in progress, but the classrooms were buzzing with activity the day the Jewish Light visited. In one elementary school art class, a group of students sang along to a video under a colorful mural that spelled out “art” in English and in Hebrew.

The location of the new Epstein Hebrew Academy is also significant because many students live nearby. That makes it much easier to get to school, even within walking distance for some, where the former (Warson Road) location required driving.

“We’ve already seen interest in new students coming in since we moved,” Rabbi Shulman said. “There is a lot of strength and potential in the future of the school enhanced by the location.”