Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building of King David High School, are back for the expansion. (image from KDHS)
Bucking a trend that is seeing Jewish day schools across North America struggling to maintain enrolment, Vancouver’s King David High School is about to launch an expansion that will grow the space by 40% to accommodate increasing demand from students.
The Diamond Foundation, which purchased the land on which the school sits and funded construction of the school, which opened in 2005, has committed $6.5 million for the expansion project. Building is expected to begin in spring 2020, with completion in time for the opening of school in September 2021.
The school was built for 10 classes – two cohorts in each of grades 8 to 12.
“The challenge is, unfortunately, they don’t come in even numbers,” said Russ Klein, King David’s head of school. “You have some years where you have huge groups and then you have years where you have lesser groups. The challenge of dealing with a third cohort in a grade is really, really challenging. It was really built for two classes per grade and, as soon as you add a third class in a grade, it changes the whole structure.
“For the last three years, we’ve been squeezing in,” he continued. The expansion will permit 13 or 14 classes, with the flexibility to accommodate bulges, like the large cohorts in the current Grade 8 and Grade 11 classes.
Originally envisioned for about 200 students, the school’s enrolment is now 236.
“Thankfully, when we talked to the Diamonds, they were totally on board with helping us get to where we want to be, to be the best school we can be for our community,” he said.
The project will add an additional 13,000 square feet to the school’s current 33,000 square feet. Architects Acton Ostry, who designed the original building, are back for the expansion.
The two-storey existing building is the maximum height allowed by the city, so the increased space will be accommodated by digging down. There is already an underground level featuring a parkade. That will be extended and an additional sub-basement dug beneath it. The land around the school will be excavated to allow natural light into the new sub-level spaces, with stairs and an accessible ramp leading to the outdoor activity area.
The lowest sub-basement level will include changing rooms for students, additional gender-neutral bathrooms, a computer technology room and storage, which is lacking in the existing school.
The basement level will feature a state-of-the-art music room with three rehearsal areas and a control room so that students can record music. Also on that level will be an office for the physical education staff.
Added to the existing main floor will be a drama space and film studio with a green screen, where students can work on movie-making, film-editing and drama programs. Also in the works is an “innovation lab,” still in the planning stage, which could include 3-D printers and other hands-on learning tools where students can co-create a range of projects and explore individual interests. The existing drama and music spaces will be converted into general classrooms, Klein said, “so we get the extra bang there as well.”
The top floor will accommodate more new classrooms and a teachers’ workroom. A number of small offices will also be integrated into the new design.
When completed, the school’s existing space and new areas will merge seamlessly, Klein said, as if part of the original structure.
Notably, despite the expansion to the east of the existing building, useable outdoor space will increase with the removal of a hill at the edge of the property and a reorganization of the playing courts.
The entire project will involve minimal disruption to students because most of the work will take place outside of the existing school. One area that will be affected is the loss of outdoor space for a school year. Aside from that, the most disruptive impacts should be some construction noise, said Klein.
The $6.5 million commitment from the Diamond Foundation covers all the brick-and-mortar components. As part of the commitment, the King David community is to raise an additional $765,000 for furnishings, technology and other “soft costs,” Klein said. Also part of the agreement is that the school increase its existing endowment, which stands at about $1 million, to $5 million over the next five years. The revenue from the endowment is intended to create a fund that ensures tuition affordability and accessibility regardless of family capacity.
Klein lauded the Diamonds’ visionary commitment to continuity.
“They are the greatest supporters of Jewish education in the city,” said the principal. “We are so in awe of what they’re doing and their willingness to do it and just step up and support the growth of the school, to demonstrate how proud they are of what the school has done and not just with their talk but with their actions and their leadership.”
The co-presidents of the King David board of directors, Jackie Cristall Morris and Neville Israel, noted that school enrolment has increased 70% in 10 years.
“The expansion will allow us to grow and to keep striving towards meeting our school vision of being a dynamic leader in empowering Jewish minds and engaging Jewish hearts for the modern world,” they wrote in a statement to the Independent. “We are incredibly grateful for the Diamond family’s support of King David since the school’s early days. Simply put, King David would not have existed without the support of the Diamonds both in building the school, providing us free use of the building and in supporting our Judaic studies program, which is now well regarded under the leadership of Rabbi Stephen Berger.”
The Diamond Foundation has been run by Gordon and Leslie Diamond and their daughters Jill Diamond and Lauri Glotman. Recently, Leslie Diamond said, the next generation of family – Glotman’s children Bram Glotman, Sadye Dixon and Carly Glotman – has joined the foundation.
Leslie Diamond acknowledges that she has been King David’s most avid proponent within the family foundation. “To me, it was very important there be a high school to carry on those traditions and to instil the purpose of keeping those traditions,” she said. “I think that kids going to King David will have a better chance of feeling their roots and not leaving them.”
The need for more space is a sign of the excellent health and strength of the community, she said.
“Even though we think that we’re small compared to Toronto and the east, we really are a strong community,” Diamond said. “The success of the school proves that. The fact that they’re growing by leaps and bounds means there is a need for a Jewish high school, which goes back to my thoughts in the very beginning.”
In addition to excellence in Judaic and general education and the range of additional curricular and extracurricular options, there is something that Diamond said King David offers that she sees as vitally important for young people. “There is this need of belonging, which you don’t get in a public school,” she said.