School surprises neighbors with new building


Very soon, construction trucks could rumble up and down West 254th Street, not to expand the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, but instead to build a new early learning center for SAR Academy — just in time for its 50th birthday. 

Groundbreaking for the 36,000-square-foot structure is weeks away, but SAR principal Binyamin Krauss is keeping dialogue open with the school’s neighbors, hosting a community meeting June 20 at 7 p.m., at SAR Academy.

Plans already have been approved by the city’s planning commission, according to SAR’s architect, although final touches are still being worked out with the buildings department, Krauss said. The project first requires the demolition of the existing center.

“There had been rumors for years that they were going to do some work,” said Charles Moerdler, chair of Community Board 8’s land use committee. “Years ago they had it in their master plan, so this isn’t a surprise.” 

Yet, SAR’s announcement surprised even Moerdler, who first learned of the pending groundbreaking just a few weeks ago.

“Whenever you have the demolition of a building, you have cement trucks, and I don’t want them parking on the street,” Moerdler said. “And there is already a significant amount of traffic when school is in session. The traffic and transportation committee may have a handful.”

The new five-story learning center will replace the old one at the 655 W. 254th St., day school — with a few more improvements, Krauss said. The center will accommodate preschool children ranging from 2 to 5, and includes a lunchroom, cooking classroom, sensory gym, and a rooftop playground.

All together, the project is expected to  cost $6 million, with fundraising efforts already securing about half those funds.

“We’re really excited about this project because the kids deserve it,” Krauss said. “They deserve a beautiful open space that will match the education that we are trying to provide. This has been an overhaul for quite some time, and we plan to do it responsibly.” 

While the center is being built, most of SAR’s 13 early learning classes will be spread into a different building and custom modular spaces, including on the roof of the building near the Gan Ilan garden.

The center will accommodate 200 preschoolers, and include a Hebrew language immersion program as well as an outdoor garden and an imagination playground — which allows children to transform their environment through sand, water and moving parts.

When construction is complete next year, SAR’s youngsters won’t be the only ones enjoying the center. Sinai Schools, which specializes in students with special needs and disabilities, is partnering with SAR this fall. 

Through this collaboration, students from both schools will learn together. 

The partnership stemmed from the demand of special needs services in schools within New York City and Westchester County, Krauss said. Sinai has doubled its services over the past seven years, and SAR is one of many schools trying to help them do so. 

Krauss expects there remains many questions about the project, and encourages parents to reach out to try and get them answered.

“This is a part of the master plan that we’ve shared a while ago,” Krauss said. “I hope the building helps students to continue to have and foster a love of learning.”