New building won’t open before January 2015

DELAYED: Plans for Shalhevets new three-story building are still tucked away near Robyn Lewis’s office.

Goldie Fields

DELAYED: Plans for Shalhevet’s new three-story building are still tucked away near Robyn Lewis’s office.

By Alexa Fishman, Community Editor

According to Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal, unforeseen delays in the permitting process mean that approval from the city of L.A. has not been finalized, escrow is not closed, and construction will not begin on the school’s new building until early in 2014.

That means Shalhevet will stay in its current configuration until second semester of next school year, he said.

“We will move in in the middle of the year,” said Rabbi Segal in an interview. “Since they can’t finish construction in less than nine months, my guess is that the building will be ready by January of 2015.”

City Zoning Administrator Fernando Tovar only issued his approval Oct. 15, even though the hearing at City Hall was in September.

An appeals period is scheduled to last 135 days – four-and-a-half months – during which time Mr. Tovar’s ruling can be challenged.

School Board President Larry Gill believes it will end sooner.

“Given the support we have garnered in the community and the strength of the zoning administrative ruling, we believe the transaction will actually close in December,” said Mr. Gill, “even though challenges will still be out there.”

Rabbi Segal agreed.

“We’ve talked to anybody who expressed any objection at any point in the process and we worked it out with them so that they feel comfortable,” Rabbi Segal said.

“The worst-case scenario is that someone appeals, but the zoning administrator made it almost impossible for an appeal to be upheld.”

Once the appeals period ends, Mr. Gill believes construction will begin soon thereafter because Shalhevet has already obtained all the other required permits, he said.

All of this is a change from previous statements and predictions. Construction was supposed to begin last summer, and the building should have been ready for the 2014-2015 school year.

Neither Rabbi Segal nor Mr. Gill had expected Los Angeles’ city bureaucracy to be so difficult and so slow, they said. But Shawn Bayliss, who is Director of Planning and Land Use for L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, was not shocked.

“The Zoning Administrator who hears the case has the option to make a decision right there or to take the case under advisement, and he chose the latter,” Mr. Bayliss said. “Everyone has to wait until the official determination comes out, and only then can the appeals process begin.”

Meanwhile, Shalhevet staff has sealed off and emptied the part of the building that is going to be knocked down, to avoid wasting time emptying the building once the appeals process ends.

Still, this year’s juniors fear that they’ll be in the Annex and halved old building for the rest of their time at Shalhevet.

“I really liked the environment in the old building because of the long hallway,” said junior Max Helfand. “Now that construction hasn’t even started, I just hope that I’ll see the new building and that ruining the environment was not for nothing.”

More delays also mean that Shalhevet will have to pay more rent and that donors who have loaned the school money cannot earn income on it.