A new building is taking shape on S.F.s Brandeis Hillel campus

Amid the hustle and bustle of kindergarten through eighth grade classes, the first of three expansion phases on Brandeis Hillel Day School's 1.9-acre San Francisco campus is nearing its springtime completion.

The wooden frame of the $10 million, 24,200-square-foot building — to include a technology center, chapel, library, art room, classrooms and staff offices — has taken shape just a few feet away from the existing 40-year-old building on Brotherhood Way.

It has replaced a building formerly owned by Congregation Beth Israel-Judea and a portion of the older Brandeis facility, which has been home to the Jewish Day school for the past 18 years.

Rabbi Henry Shreibman, Brandeis' head of school, expressed his satisfaction at the first phase's fruition with a spirited gesture toward the construction zone, where a 75-foot crane is preparing to lift the building's second floor into place.

"This thing was a map for three years of my life," he said, "and then suddenly, wham, it's here."

First-grade teacher Barbara Eisenhower shared Shreibman's enthusiasm.

"First it was just dirt and now it's built up so much. In a few weeks the teachers will be able to take a tour through the building."

Although the building is not set to open until the fall 2002 semester, Eisenhower is already fielding requests from her 20 students who don't want to wait until second grade to move into the new building.

"One little girl wanted to know if we could move in after Chanukah break," she said.

Because Eisenhower takes the students to the site once a week to see the progress, she also fields lots of questions.

"A little boy asked if we'd have hot water in our classroom, since we wash our hands so much. Another asked what color the building would be."

For Eisenhower, who has worked at Brandeis for 13 years, the building is a godsend. Her classroom will be much larger, allowing her to set up various workstations and display more of the children's projects.

She will also have computers in the classroom, a luxury that before was only afforded to middle school classrooms, as well as a separate office, a great deal of storage space, sinks and a water fountain.

"Now we're either at our desks or on the rug," said Eisenhower. "Next year we'll be able to move around."

And it's about time, said Shreibman.

"Brandeis has a competitive program with a regional reputation for touching the head, heart, soul and body of its students," said Shreibman. "We got that reputation in a crowded 40-year-old facility. Now its time to move to a dignified space."

Meanwhile, the push for donations to fund the three-phase project, estimated to cost around $20 million, is shifting into high gear. A capital campaign has raised around $7 million thus far and will go toward paying down a $10 million bond covering the costs of phase one.

Once the bond is paid down and an additional $3 million to $5 million is raised, construction can begin on phase two and eventually phase three. The cost of these phases is unknown, but Shreibman expects it to total $10 million.

Despite also paying hefty tuition of $12,000 to $13,000 at the independent Jewish community day school, about 78 percent of the parents at the San Francisco school have donated to the campaign. Of the combined parent population of both the San Francisco and San Rafael campuses, about 90 percent have donated.

Now there is a need, said Shreibman, for the greater community to step in.

"If the community comes forward in a big way we can go right into the next phase," said Shreibman. "The project has been designed so we don't have to necessarily jump from phase to phase, but hopefully we'll have money invested that can roll over into phase two."

Phase two involves erecting a building that would house classrooms and an additional art room. It would replace the modules along the back of the property.

Phase three includes adding a cafeteria, a courtyard and a performing arts complex near the gym in the adjacent former Jewish community center building.

The builder, S.F.-based Plant Construction, can complete each phase in a year or less. Construction will not take place on Shabbat or any other Jewish holiday and the school will remain operational throughout.

Ultimately, the campus will encompass the existing Brandeis facilities and the JCC building, both bought by Brandeis in 1995. In addition to the school's 330 students, it will house the JCC's 70-to-75-student early childhood education program and some Beth Israel-Judea components.

Between its San Francisco and San Rafael campuses, Brandeis has a record enrollment this year of 544 students.