Missouri Torah Institute buys 8-acre campus in Chesterfield

Missouri Torah Institute buys 8-acre campus in Chesterfield

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

After eight years at Tpheris Israel Chevra Kadisha, the Missouri Torah Institute (MTI) is on the move with the purchase of a property that it hopes will signal continuing growth for the West County yeshiva.

“This new campus is a gift from heaven,” said Rabbi Dovid Fromowitz, a dean with MTI. “We’ve really been busting at the seams and it is a state-of-the-art, beautiful, magnificent campus that affords us not just educational space but recreational space.”

The new eight-acre campus, located at 1809 Clarkson Road in Chesterfield, comes complete with a 120,000-square-foot building already in place. The former home of the recently relocated St. Joseph School for the Deaf, the facilities will include a gym, ball courts, a music room, workout facilities and even a science lab, as well as new dormitories for living space to accommodate the institution’s 70 students who are part of its high school and post-high school programs.

Fromowitz said that, while he would not release all the details of the acquisition, the capital campaign, which includes the purchase price and renovations, is looking to raise about $6.4 million. He said the school is already most of the way there, having brought in roughly $4 million, and leaders are confident they can raise the rest.

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“We’re optimistic that people in the community will recognize the importance of the school and will want to participate,” he said.

He noted that the need for immediate renovations did not look to be extensive and would mostly be completed over the summer before the school opens in its new home by late August. Another revamp might occur 

later in a second phase of the project.

The building was originally built in 1986 and renovated a decade later. He said he feels the structure was a bargain.

“People say it is a $20 to $30 million value,” he said.

Founded in 2007, the school has been housed since its creation in offices at the TICK facility, which Fromowitz said had been generous and welcoming with its space. However, he said the move will allow even greater expansion. He said the school serves both local and out-of-town students that over the years have come from as many as 20 cities nationwide.

“We already have students who are interested from all across the United States, mainly from the Midwest,” he said. “That’s really what we are trying to build up, St. Louis and the Midwest.”

He hopes that the community as a whole will be strengthened as the campus becomes a magnet for people from places outside the region.

“Our hope is that a lot of these students, because they are staying here for high school and post-high school, will eventually decide to live here,” he said. “The Jewish community is looking to grow, and we all want young Jewish families to settle here. We believe this is a big piece of the puzzle, having a strong Jewish high school here.”

Dr. Craig Reiss, chair of the school’s board, agrees. He said that the presence of such an institution can be a big factor in any family’s decision to move.

“Since MTI has come to St. Louis, we’ve had several families relocate here. Because of MTI, we foresee that other families throughout the country will be looking for places to relocate out of some of the bustling metropolises to the St. Louis community,” Reiss said. “When many families are anticipating potential jobs, one of the things they question is whether there will be a yeshiva in that city that offers amenities to house their children so they don’t have to send them out of town.”

He feels certain that the school can compete by providing everything from an on-site kitchen to classrooms equipped with smartboards. The 60 new dormitories can house visiting students or families for overnight stays so people can stay in town while observing Shabbat or the holidays.

“The growth of MTI over the last eight years has been tremendous, with students coming from all over the country and actually three different countries in addition to the United States,” he said. “The new campus will really provide a world-class facility that is onpar with any yeshiva in the country.”

In addition to its new home, MTI is also working toward another possible change, having applied for status as a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation. 

Andrew Rehfeld, president and CEO of the Federation, said he couldn’t comment on active applications of specific organizations, which were in process, but that Jewish education was important to the community and to the Federation. He said that his agency examines a number of criteria for an organization’s application, such as whether a group qualifies as local rather than national, whether it has good board accountability and whether it achieves sound results.

Fromowitz said the school is now looking to the future.

“We project that now that we have the campus, there will be a nice growth each year,” he said. “It is a large facility, and we plan on growing into the facility.”

Rabbi Shmuel Wasser, another dean at the school who teaches in its post-high school program, said he’s excited about the move.

“It provides us with top-rated accommodations in every way — top-rated facilities to give the students the space that they need and well-lit, airy classrooms, a modern-looking field, everything that students need to feel comfortable in their learning environment,” he said.