Yeshiva Builds New School Over Abandoned Little Neck Hotel
by Neille Ilel, Chronicle Reporter September 23, 2004
Yeshiva Har Torah started work on its new elementary school building in Little Neck. It’s due to be completed by Septemeber 2005.
The cornerstone of Yeshiva Har Torah’s new school building was dedicated September 12th, kicking off construction of the Orthodox Jewish elementary school’s new building in Little Neck.
YHT began educating elementary school children 15 years ago, but has never had a building of its own. Instead they’ve been renting space from two other organizations. The kindergarten through third-grade classes have been meeting at Bellerose Jewish Center and the fourth through eighth-graders have been meeting at the Oakland Jewish Center in Bayside.
All nine grades plus a nursery school, which was started this year, plan to move to their own united location when the new 55,000-square-foot building is completed, estimated at the start of the 2005 school year.
“Operating two campuses is very challenging, administratively, and you can’t create a sense of community,” said YHT Principal Rabbi Gary Menchel. He hopes the new building will allow all the children access to the entire school’s resources.
Currently, 360 students attend the school. The new building, with 4 stories, 22 classrooms and a dedicated early childhood wing, should accommodate all of them plus more if enrollment increases.
Two-thirds of the students come from Queens, and about one-third live in neighboring Nassau County, Menchel said. He added that while enrollment has been increasing steadily, YHT will never get too large because its mission is to have a close-knit community school. Class size is limited to no more than 22 students.
The school is being built at Little Neck Boulevard and the Grand Central Parkway on the site of the former Pillenium Hotel. The hotel had been abandoned for a number of years and was a magnet for vagrants, said the school’s Director of Development Alan Steinberg.
Richard Hellenbrecht, chairman of Community Board 13, agreed. The board supported the development. “It’s a significantly better usage than what was there before,” he said. “The hotel had been rather disreputable in its later years.”
The school received a $500,000 grant from the City Council, which was supported by Councilman David Weprin. There are plans for a junior high school-sized gymnasium that will be available for community use in exchange for the grant. The bulk of the $10-million project will be paid for by private donations and tuition fees, though the school is applying for both state and federal education grants.
Steinberg said the facility will be state-of-the-art with all classrooms wired for computer use and an extensive security system. There are two below-ground floors and two above-ground floors planned and a third floor could be added on later if a need arose.
Before the 1-acre site was a hotel it was the Little Neck Country Club, where Neil Diamond performed for the first time at age 19. Three-quarters of an acre will be given back to the site for use as a parking lot and easy access to Little Neck Boulevard. It was claimed by the city under eminent domain laws during the construction of Grand Central Parkway but was never used.