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Epstein sells campus to Miriam

An era has come to an end for the H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy as it completes the sale of the building that housed the Jewish day school for most of its 76-year existence. 

“While it is certainly bittersweet to bid farewell to the building that has been our home for the past five decades, we are excited for the future of our beloved school,” Max Gornish, Epstein’s president and board chair, wrote in a letter to parents last week. 

The 58,000-square foot structure and its associated eight-acre campus will now serve the Miriam Foundation, which is set to house its three-year-old Miriam Academy at the site. Currently sharing space with a Clayton church, Miriam will now be able to spread out its 63 students across eight classrooms, two science labs and a gymnasium. 

Executive director Andrew Thorp said the academy, which helps high schoolers with learning challenges, also intends to take advantage of the acreage as well by using the outdoor space for soccer. 

“It is in a great location on North Warson Road really close to the plant science center,” said Thorp. “We think there is the possibility of a lot of great partnerships with them.” 

Both sides declined to reveal a purchase price for the facility, however, Thorp said Miriam will put about $2 million into the structure, primarily to install air conditioning in the gym and make repairs to the roof. 

Still, the structure will remain intact, something that may not have been true in a sale to another party.

“Had it been torn down, I think it would have broken some hearts,” Thorp said. “We are repurposing and reusing it as a school.” 

Just as the building was the first permanent home for Epstein a half-century ago, it will also represent the first permanent base of operations for its new institution. The academy has been housed in temporary quarters since its 2016 creation. 

Meanwhile, Epstein will be closing on its own new location Oct. 2. Located in University City on Old Bonhomme just west of McKnight Road, the former United Cerebral Palsy Building has about 22,000 square feet to house Epstein’s 78 students. 

“For us, strategically, it makes sense to get to a building that is more right-sized for our school and our student body,” Gornish said. “The location also puts us right in the heart of the University City Jewish community.”

The sale also will help the school, which put the property on the market last year to pay off debt. 

“It allows us the ability to more easily manage our budget,” Gornish said. “There is a financial component to this as well.”

Epstein will remain in its present space until the end of the year and begin operations in University City in January. Due to renovations, Miriam will take a bit longer to get things underway but expects to be up and running on North Warson by mid-2020 in time for the new school year. 

Thorp said the academy’s goal is to nearly double its current enrollment.

“It will be an outstanding space for us,” he said. 

The purchase came on the heels of previous disappointment for both schools. Gornish said the Epstein property initially was under contract with a developer but “the deal wasn’t going very smoothly.” 

Meanwhile, Miriam’s attempt to purchase the old B’nai El synagogue building along Interstate 64 had been spurned by the Westwood Board of Trustees. B’nai El merged with Shaare Emeth in 2016. 

“It was really two schools who needed each other at the right time,” said Thorp. “I’m glad we didn’t get that other option at B’nai El because I think there would have been too many restrictions on how we could operate there.”

In addition to the academy, the Miriam Foundation will also be relocating administrative workers to North Warson from rented office space in Rock Hill.

“It’ll be really nice for the staff,” Thorp said. “We’ll be able to see the mission firsthand.”