The 130-year-old Jewish Theological Seminary of America is embarking on a $96 million multi-year modernization that will keep its storied past safe — and carry the spiritual center for Conservative Judaism into the next century.
JTS officials on Monday said they have put together a deal to sell one old dorm, a small parcel of land, and a chunk of its air rights to a New York City developer.
The school will use the cash windfall to fund a “reimagining” of its one-block campus at the corner of 122nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, said JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen.
That means, he told The Forward, an approximately 10-story tower for a new library and dorm that can house 150 students (far more than the Mathilde Schechter Residence Hall it’s selling and the Horace W. Goldsmith residence hall it may eventually also put up for sale.)
“This is a historic day for JTS and the American Jewish community,” Eisen said proudly.
And it’s just not physical structures that are on tap for JTS, which has five schools (undergraduate, graduate, and rabbinical) in all, including one with ties to its neighbors immediately south, Barnard College and Columbia University: There’s also a major virtual aspect.
“We will use advanced technology and design to strengthen our academic institution at a time of rapid and radical transformation,” Eisen said.
A new state-of-the-art library will allow for the digitization and preservation of some 36,000 rare books, which will then be stored in environmentally-protected areas.
The school is also home to the largest collection of Judaica outside of Israel and modern facilities will keep it safe, Eisen said.
The chancellor said the modernization plan will greatly boost its already dynamic online presence, including outreach efforts to shuls around America as well as online and live streaming classes.
Digitization will also provide important resources to alumni and Conservative communities around the country he told The Forward.
Architects have been tapped as designers. The firm’s many projects include new facilities for the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and New York’s American Folk Art Museum.
After having done numerous programs in conjunction with another famous school, Juilliard, the seminary will design a performance space that will allow those types of programs to flourish; and it will develop conference facilities that will enable JTS to become a hub for major gatherings of Jewish scholars and leaders.
Savanna, the real estate firm and developer that bought the campus parcel and air rights, is proposing a 250,000-sq.ft. residential development for the site on 122nd Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway.
“JTS has always been an idea incubator, exploring the ways that Judaism can be exciting and responsive to our times. As chairman of the board, I am gratified to be at the helm during such a transformational moment in the organization’s history,” Alan Levine, JTS’s chair of the board of trustees said in a statement.
“The sale announced today will enable us to reimagine our campus and fulfill our mission to cultivate leaders who think in new and interesting ways about Judaism and the broader world.”
John Oswald is The Forward’s deputy digital media editor.