H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy, a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school, has reached an agreement to sell its property in Olivette to the Miriam Foundation, which will use the building for a high school for students with special needs.
Epstein plans to purchase a smaller building in University City that was designed in the 1950s to serve as an elementary school but for decades has been occupied by UCP Heartland, a nonprofit that provides programs for people living with a spectrum of disabilities.
The planned moves come after the Miriam Foundation reached an agreement with Congregation Shaare Emeth to purchase the former B’nai El property, which Shaare Emeth now owns. However, that deal could not be completed because the trustees of the Village of Westwood, one of two municipalities in which the property was located, did not approve its rezoning.
These new deals have not been finalized but the parties expect to close in late September or early October. The leaders of the schools declined to provide information on how much the properties were bought and sold for.
Andrew Thorp, executive director of the Miriam Foundation, said the Epstein property, located at 1138 N. Warson Road, “fits our classrooms perfectly. The great part about it is there is actually a municipality that is welcoming us. Zoning should not be an issue for us as we move forward as it’s already a school.”
Thorp also mentioned the building’s location next to the Danforth Plant Science Center. In addition, he pointed out, the St. Louis County Economic Development Partnership’s plan is to build trails and pedestrian paths in the area.
With a smaller student body, Epstein, an early childhood, elementary and middle school, no longer needed the eight-acre property. Its current building is about 70,000 square-feet; the new building, at 8645 Old Bonhomme Road, is about 21,000 square-feet, according to Max Gornish, Epstein president.
Epstein plans to merge with Yeshivat Kadimah High School, also a Modern Orthodox institution, when the academic year begins in late summer. The new school will have about 90 students but leaders hope to increase that number, Gornish said. School enrollment could triple in size and still fit into the new property, he added. The hope is for both schools to move into the new building in January 2020.
Each school plans to invest in renovations in its new home. Epstein plans to renovate the bathrooms, replace some flooring and paint the school and would eventually like to build a stand-alone gymnasium on the property, Gornish said.
Thorp, of Miriam, said the Epstein building needs roof renovations, for which school officials plan to launch a fundraising campaign. The foundation would like to expand the school from 55 students to 120 and hopes to move from its current home inside Parkway United Church of Christ in Town and Country to the new space at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.
Asked whether the purchase of the Epstein property feels like the backup option following the disappointment around the B’nai El deal, Thorp said, “Actually, we are a little relieved frankly. We would have had to live under restrictions about how we would operate our program in the Village of Westwood and really be limited on the hours in which we could operate. This gives us a whole lot more flexibility.”