Firebombed UTT/Herzliah campus sold

The former St. Laurent campus of United Talmud Torahs/Herzliah High School was sold.

MONTREAL — The campus of Montreal’s United Talmud Torahs/Herzliah High School that was firebombed in 2004 has been sold after two years on the market.

The extensive property had been for sale since the fall of 2011 after the campus was closed due to falling enrolment and financial difficulties.

The library at the campus, in the city’s St. Laurent district, was heavily damaged in April 2004 by what a court called a terrorist act that its perpetrator said was motivated by anti-Israel sentiment. The attack made headlines around the world and was widely condemned.

Enrolment took a drop after that, accelerating a trend already underway for some years as the mainstream anglophone Jewish population declined.

Parents, as well as the broader St. Laurent Jewish community, fought the UTT/Herzliah board’s decision to close the campus, and Federation CJA bailed out the school with hundreds of thousands of dollars and help in its governance, but the schools continued to operate well below capacity and the deficit continued to mount.

Keeping the school open took on a symbolic significance. The St. Laurent Jewish community was determined that it should survive after the hateful attack.

The campus was shuttered at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, and the elementary and high schools merged with the system's other campus in Snowdon. The elementary had been scheduled to close in 2008, but a campaign by parents and others in the St. Laurent community, persuaded the board to keep it open a few more years.

School president Monica Bensoussan confirmed in a recent letter to parents that the sale to the private Ecole Saint-Antoine de Montréal for $3.6 million has been finalized.

“This is a significant step in strengthening the financial and pedagogical foundation of our school system,” she wrote.

Some $1.6 million of the proceeds will go toward repaying bank loans for renovations to the Snowdon campus, and the remainder will be placed in an endowment fund “to be used in due course in support of our strategic plan and priorities.”

The annual interest from that fund will support school programming, professional development and further building improvements, she said.

Opened in 1959 (the high school was added in 1972), the St. Laurent property was named the Beutel Campus in honour of benefactors Rachel and Benjamin Beutel.

In 2011, a federation-endorsed plan to merge UTT/Herzliah and the other largest Jewish day school system, Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools/Bialik High School, which was also struggling with enrolment and financial woes, was shelved.

Bensoussan acknowledged that finding a suitable buyer for the St. Laurent property had been a “lengthy and arduous” process.”

She said that the sale committee, headed by Donald Davis and Gary Polachek, “worked diligently to secure a fair market price for the facility. Our commitment to maximizing the value of the sale reflects our fiduciary obligation to our parents, teachers, alumni and future generations of students.”

She described UTT/Herzliah, which was founded in 1896, as “blossoming and thriving” today.

“A key measurement of our success is that our entry level classes for the 2013-2014 school year, at both the elementary and high school, are at full capacity, with a waiting list at each entry level.”

Spokesperson Tova Havis said 50 students are registered for kindergarten and 115 for the high school’s secondary I, which will bring this September’s total enrolment to more than 600.