GREENSBORO, N.C. — Money problems at American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro may have led to no job and no school for many families and students. The 18-year-old school closed abruptly on Tuesday and on Wednesday some staff got their separation letters. One person was seen carrying a box to his car on Wednesday afternoon.
The luxurious 100-acre campus, valued at $84.5 million, includes a 22-acre lake, an 88,000 square foot acquatic center. The Academy's 2016-2017 IRS 990 tax filing record gave a glimpse into what kind of financial trouble the prestigious Jewish boarding school was grappling with over the years.
Despite its annual tuition and boarding cost of $24,000 for a day student, the school was progressively losing money. Enrollment dropped drastically from about 400 at full capacity to 134 in the last academic year. In the 2016-2017 school year, the school spent $18 million in operational cost, but was only able to generate revenue of around $5 million. The previous year it lost nearly $10 million. Donations had also dropped.
In the letter sent to the school's body, Tuesday, announcing the school's closure, CEO Glenn Drew and Board Chair Leeor Sabbah wrote,
"The academy simply lacks the financial resources to continue as a viable concern given rising school costs, low enrollment growth, and insufficient philanthropic support."
Now community organizations are scrambling to help about 80 employees find new jobs and about 100 students get placed in a new school. Temple Emanuel and the Greensboro Jewish Federation are making resources available to families affected.
"We'll help them with job networking, with housing, with basic living needs to see what we can do to help and provide counseling as needed for every individual affected," said Marilyn Forman-Chandler, Greensboro Jewish Federation.
Greensboro Day school said staff and parents can contact them directly or log on to their website to find out about opportunities for teaching jobs and class enrollment.
The principal at Ben Gamla Preparatory Academy, a Hebrew charter school in Hollywood Florida has also extended open spots to displaced students.
A former student, Sofia Sabet, Class of 2019, set up a go-fund-me page to help out. She aims to raise $6 million to save the school.
"If that doesn't work out, we want to donate the money to the staff and help them ease their transition," said Sabet via Facetime from her home in Florida.
The closure of the school raises questions about the future of the property.
We reached out to the academy's management for more on the closure and to find out the next steps but we haven't heard back.
But leading Greensboro real estate developers say with the school's closure the property is now one of the most attractive in the city.
"While it isn't a suitable site for the Carroll Companies to pursue, the site contains valuable site improvements that are likely too valuable to demolish and repurpose," said real estate developer Roy Carroll.
"Other than another school, the site would be a good residential site, an age-restricted/retirement campus or a corporate campus for a large corporation," added Carroll.
"The American Hebrew Academy will want over $20 million for the site. If re-purposed, you can add another $2 million for the demolition cost of the existing structures. If these numbers are accurate and a buyer repurposes the site, you will likely end up with a fairly dense redevelop of the site in order to make the math work," Carroll speculated.
"It's a great piece of property, very well located with infrastructure on site," said Robbie Perkins, former Mayor of Greensboro and a Commercial real estate broker at NAI Piedmont Triad.
The site was built specifically with a school in mind so we reached out to Triad Universities to see if they'd be interested.
High Point University President Nido Qubein released this statement:
"We are saddened by the closure. High Point University and American Hebrew Academy have a longstanding relationship as educational leaders in the Triad. The University has no plans to purchase the property."
The academy's letter to staff and students didn't hint on the future, whether a re-branded school or a possible sale, but community leaders acknowledge losing the school is a big blow.