New home, new era for Gottesman school
At Randolph dedication, admiring a green facility and its early supporters
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
The Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph ushered in a new era this year, with a new name (officially changed last year) and a new building, dedicated Oct. 25.
Rain forced the celebration inside as hundreds of guests, including students, faculty, area rabbis, heads of other day schools, alumni, alumni parents, and lay leaders poured in. Several politicians, including Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11) and Randolph Deputy Mayor Roman Hirniak also attended.
The new 43,000-square-foot facility was built on a recently purchased four-acre plot adjacent to the site of the original building; the building was razed and pulverized to recycle as part of the parking lot and soccer field. The new school’s 28,000-square-foot footprint is slightly larger than its predecessor’s.
The interior spaces feature bright colors, barn-style doors on classrooms, unexpected alcoves, and playful classroom furniture. Natural materials, including wood for furniture and boulders for retaining walls, were harvested at the site. Numerous windows bring the sweeping landscape inside. More than 500 solar panels generate almost 80 percent of the energy needed to operate the building.
The building’s facade was fashioned to resemble Jerusalem stone, and in one area, near an outdoor deck, the architect designed an homage to the Western Wall.
Classrooms are larger, and many have partitions as well as attached study rooms. Other features include an art studio, two outdoor decks that can double as amphitheaters, a theater, a reading library, a full-size gymnasium, three kitchens (meat, dairy, teaching), an indoor playground for the lower grades, a soccer field, an outdoor dining area, and a staff lounge.
A new childcare center offers daycare for children of faculty and younger siblings of Gottesman students, starting at three months of age.
Environmentally sustainable features were part of the design, including electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot and high-efficiency heating and cooling systems.
Classes in the new building began in September.
The facility was also designed for communal use. “We’re here only until 5 p.m. on weekdays,” said academy treasurer Steven Levy, who cochaired the Our Future Together Campaign with his wife, Beena. A soccer association has already rented the field; the building can be used for private parties or board meetings. Levy hopes professional productions will be staged in the theater, and the sanctuary is available for b’nei mitzva for families with children enrolled in the school — in fact, its first will be held this fall.
Levy said he also hopes that community usage will relieve some of the financial pressure on tuition.
The school, founded in 1967 as the Hebrew Academy of Morris County, currently has 182 students enrolled. The new facility can accommodate 250 children in grades K-8. It is a member of RAVSAK, a national network of community day schools and is not affiliated with any of the major denominations.
At the dedication ceremony, students wearing their Gottesman RTW Academy T-shirts watched from bleachers on the stage in the gym. Naomi Bacharach, director of institutional advancement, and an alumna whose parents were among the school’s founders, together with Levy, presented Paula and Jerry Gottesman of Morristown with a framed photo of the new building. Their $8 million pledge and $7 million matching gift enabled the new structure to be built, with a total of $23 million in pledges and endowments.
Speakers included Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. She related growing up in Newport, RI, in a Jewish community “so small it could barely support a Hebrew school, let alone a day school.” She said, “If I were five years old again — and boy do I wish I were — I’d say to my parents, ‘Send me here!’”
Frelinghuysen called the school “an anchor” in “a turbulent, violent world,” while Hirniak called it “a moral compass” and wished those involved with the building process a “yasher koach.”
Levy reflected on the idea that, according to Jewish custom, every person is required to “write” a Torah scroll in his or her lifetime “If writing a Torah scroll generates really big points on the mitzva scoreboard, where does building a school fit on that scoreboard?” he said.
The Gottesmans, parents of alumni, received a standing ovation. In addition to their longstanding support for the school, they have led a community-wide effort to reduce tuition costs that has become a national model.
Jerry Gottesman, who heads the Edison Properties real estate, storage, and parking garage business, said that he and his wife came by their interest in Jewish education “honestly,” through the model of their own parents. He also paid tribute to the school’s founders, Michael and Midge Rubenstein, Alvin and Charlotte Turner, and Morton and Beatsy Wertheimer, whose surnames make up the RTW in the school’s name. “They teamed up to create this school. It was just a dream back in 1967. They took a tremendous risk founding a day school in what was then a frontier for Jewish life,” Gottesman said.
Following the speeches and singing by the students, attendees were invited to move to two entryways, where mezuzot were affixed by the families of major contributors to the project. The event continued with tours of the building.