MONTREAL — Bialik High School is confident enough in the Montreal Jewish community’s future to go ahead with a further $3-million expansion, after just completing an addition that cost approximately $3.5 million.
Students, staff, lay leaders and community officials join in the ribbon-cutting ceremony officially launching Bialik High School’s new fourth floor and second-phase expansion last week. [Howard Kay photo]
The Côte St. Luc school last week officially inaugurated its new fourth floor and other renovations that were completed in January, and also launched the public phase of its fundraising campaign.
The centrepiece of the new plans is an athletics and performing arts complex, which will be built behind the existing gymnasium. School officials said the new building will meet the demands of a growing sports program and provide improved staging facilities for a popular theatre and music program.
Bialik’s enrolment, currently at 640, has been steadily increasing, despite the mainstream anglophone Jewish population’s decline, apparently because it has moved beyond its historic secular and Yiddish orientation.
Today, said Arnold Cohen, president of Jewish People’s and Peretz Schools and Bialik, children from across the religious spectrum, “from atheist to modern Orthodox,” are welcome and can feel comfortable at Bialik.
JPPS is no longer the only feeder school. A 2003 agreement with Solomon Schechter Academy, traditionally associated with the Conservative movement, has brought in many students graduating from that elementary school. A Hebraica track at Bialik allows students to opt out of Yiddish and take all Jewish studies in Hebrew.
Cohen said more children are also coming from non-Jewish schools, and a program was created at Bialik to let them catch up in Judaica. So many kids are now commuting from the West Island that a bus service was added.
In addition, Bialik offers both remedial and advanced programs, and has a French section that enables it to accept immigrant children.
Cohen said about 40 per cent of Bialik students receive some level of subsidy of their tuition.
“We are very inclusive; we have become the community school,” said Cohen, a 1982 graduate. Bialik was created in 1972 and the school was built in 1984.
Bialik has raised more than $2.1 million in pledges to date, mainly from leading donors including the Alexander, Garber, Becker, Newpol, Eliesen, Cola and Elituv families, as well as the Stephen R. Bronfman Foundation and the Tauben Family Foundation.
And loans “at very favourable terms” have been received in the amounts of $1.5 million from FEDERATION CJA and $1 million from the U.S.-based Avi Chai Foundation.
The new construction, scheduled to begin this month, also includes turning the Mettarlin Hall into a space suitable for smaller theatrical productions, an exercise and weight room, and the creation of an atrium-style hall of honour at the entrance to the new complex. Completion is projected for the spring of 2009.
The new fourth floor houses an enlarged art studio, six new classrooms and a senior students’ lounge. The first-phase construction also included an expanded cafeteria, a second student lounge, an upgraded science laboratory, and improved security and landscaping.
At the inauguration ceremony, Cohen said the variety of academic and extra-curricular programs Bialik now offers “shows that it is not true that you have to make sacrifices to go to a Jewish school,” an allusion to the well-rounded curriculum found at many non-Jewish private schools and an increasing number of specialized public schools.
Guests at the ceremony got a taste of Bialik students’ varied talents, getting to meet the Bulldogs – the medal-winning boys’ and girls’ basketball teams in Greater Montreal Athletic Association competition – and the cast of this year’s production of the musical Annie Get Your Gun.