Golda Och Academy lower school in West Orange launched its $7 million renovation with a ceremonial ground breaking on May 17.
With shovels in hand, Jane and Mark Wilf of Livingston stood in front of the 60-year-old building and “dug” out the first dirt for the basement, joined by their son, Andrew, who is in the fourth grade, and Mark’s mother, Susie.
The lower school renovation calls for the refurbishment of existing spaces and an expansion of the building. Project highlights include the addition of a science discovery lab and a new technology lab, synagogue, playground, library, and cafeteria; upgraded administrative offices; creation of a specialty space for art and music; updated and wired classrooms; and increased accessibility.
“We are taking a 1950s structure that is limited in so many ways and improving it to provide the kind of atmosphere for the education we offer,” GOA immediate past president Eleanor Kramer told NJJN.
Jane and Mark Wilf and the Wilf family contributed a $2 million lead capital gift for the lower school renovation.
The project is part of GOA’s Building on Tradition campaign, which has a focus on tuition assistance, academic excellence, and capital improvements. All gifts to the campaign will be matched by the Jane and Daniel Och Family Foundation up to $15 million.
The lower school project is expected to cost a total of $7 million; $6.5 million has already been raised.
The ground-breaking ceremony was led by Kramer, who is also cochair of the building committee. Head of school Joyce Raynor offered a Sheheheyanu prayer for new beginnings, adding, “We say a Sheheheyanu; the idea is that it’s a serial thing — that we’ll be able to say many more, especially when we dedicate the building.”
Members of the student government joined administrators, donors, and Wilf family members at the outdoor morning event.
“It was really special,” said Theo Dietz-Green, a fifth-grader from Montclair. “I couldn’t believe I got to attend this ceremony, and I’m really looking forward to the new building.”
Immediately following the ceremony, the entire student body donned hard hats and joined the festivities in the gym. Michael Och, the late Golda Och’s husband, joined the indoor gathering.
The assembled students and guests heard addresses from Mark Wilf, board president Joe Bier, principal Gloria Kron, and Raynor. The school’s Israeli Folk Dancing Troupe performed for the gathering.
“We’ve had plan after plan after plan; however, the renovation never happened,” said Raynor. “Now, thanks to the Wilf family, we will be able to experience a state-of-the-art lower school.”
Mark and Jane Wilf’s four children have all attended Golda Och Academy, the former Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union. “We feel very strongly that the future of the Jewish community depends on strong Jewish education,” Mark told NJJN. “The values here at Golda Och Academy of Torah, love of Israel, and learning to be a great citizen of the American-Jewish community all are important values we share.”
The renovation “is long overdue,” he said. “We want this school to remain competitive, to be able to attract the best and brightest.”
The renovation will actually begin “any day now,” according to Stephanie Bash-Soudry, GOA director of development and alumni relations. It is scheduled to be completed in 18 months.