35-acre campus in Radnor will be site of Akiba

Posted: July 06, 2007

The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia announced yesterday that it has acquired the scenic, wooded 35-acre campus of American College in Radnor and plans to turn it into an educational site for the Main Line's growing Jewish community.

The principal tenant of the $30 million site will be Akiba Hebrew Academy, an elite Jewish day school now in Lower Merion. Akiba will change its name this fall, when it takes over the campus' modern, five-story conference center.

Based in Lower Merion and serving 320 students in grades six to 12, Akiba will be renamed the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, after the late brother of Center City lawyer Leonard Barrack.

Ira M. Schwartz, federation president and chief executive officer, yesterday called the site acquisition - which had the unanimous consent of the federation's board - "a historic moment and a major boost for the entire Jewish community in greater Philadelphia."

"It will allow us to develop the campus over time into a major hub on this side of the [Schuylkill] for community education," similar to its Mandell campus in Melrose Park, home to Gratz College.

About 200,000 Jews live in the federation's five-county service area. The Main Line and Bucks and Chester Counties have seen their Jewish populations grow rapidly in recent years.

About 50,000 more live in Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties, the service area of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey.

Barrack, who will be the federation's next president, graduated from Akiba and has been a major benefactor. He recently donated $5 million to the school's tuition-assistance program, according to Schwartz, and has pledged to help expand its facilities.

Plans call for creating sports fields and other facilities for the school, which now occupies several floors of an office building that Schwartz called "inadequate."

Many residents of Radnor, Bryn Mawr and Villanova had expressed concern in recent years that the American College campus, on South Bryn Mawr Avenue, might be converted to residential development. The college offers services to people in the financial-services field. The institution is not moving; it has entered into an agreement to lease back space, a spokesman said.

The site, which includes an arboretum, walking trails, streams and woods, is home to six buildings totaling 220,000 square feet. Schwartz said the federation may construct additional buildings over time.

Akiba will occupy the 86,000-square-foot Gregg Conference Center, built in 1981.

Villanova University will continue to lease Huebner Hall through May 2015. Another building, the MDRT Foundation Hall, is leased to American College through 2017.

Founded in 1946, Akiba Hebrew Academy identifies itself as "the oldest community Jewish secondary day school in North America." It was named for Akiva ben Joseph, a first-century sage considered to be the founder of rabbinic Judaism.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.

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