Hollywood neighbors oppose ex-U.S. Rep. Deutsch’s plan for another Ben Gamla school

By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org  

Rendering of proposed Ben Gamla charter School in Hollywood

Rendering of proposed Ben Gamla charter School in Hollywood

Former Democratic U.S. Congressman Peter Deutsch is pushing to build another Ben Gamla charter school, this time in Hollywood over the opposition of residents in a working-class neighborhood congested by morning and afternoon traffic.

Deutsch’s plan is for a combined middle and high school on Van Buren Street across from an existing Ben Gamla K-8 school at 2620 Hollywood Boulevard.

It is reminiscent of Deutsch’s unsuccessful attempt two years ago to build an elementary and middle charter school facility in Hallandale Beach. Opposition by nearby residents scuttled that plan, forcing the sale of the property to the city for a park.

In Hollywood, officials with the English-Hebrew charter school are seeking a zoning exception from the city to build a $5 million four-story, 49,000-square-foot school for 1,050 students on Van Buren Street between 26th and 28th avenues.

While officials of three neighborhood organizations representing nearly 150 homeowners are speaking out in opposition to the school because of traffic and other concerns, Deutsch says it will be an asset to the city.

“I think this is going to be an incredible addition to the city and the neighborhood,” said Deutsch, the founder of the publicly funded Ben Gamla Charter School network. A majority of the students will come from Hollywood, and the school will reach out to the neighborhood for students, he said.

Ex-Congressman Peter Deutsch

Ex-Congressman Peter Deutsch

Neighboring residents aren’t convinced.

“It does not fit here,” said Helen Chervin, secretary/treasurer of United Neighbors Civic Association of South Hollywood, comprised of more than 50 homeowners. “They want to build a big elephant by my house.”

“The traffic would be a serious setback for our community,” added Andre Brown, the group’s president. “We are talking about a huge safety issue.”

A decision by the city is expected in about three months.

Residents say their concerns are rooted in experience.

Chervin said the opening of the 600-student Ben Gamla K-8 school in 2007 created traffic problems for residents trying to drive out of the neighborhood to go to work. The area is just south of Hollywood Boulevard and west of City Hall.

A second Ben Gamla school next door would make traffic “impossible,” said Shirley Stealey, secretary/treasurer of the Highland Gardens Civic Association, which represents 35 to 40 nearby homeowners. Most of the students, she said, will come from outside the immediate neighborhood.

While Ben Gamla officials have hired a traffic consultant to come up with suggestions to ease congestion, Stealey said “no matter what they do traffic will be blocked” due to narrow neighborhood streets and the heavy traffic flow from the two schools.

Ken Crawford, president of the nearby Parkside Civic Association, expressed similar fears about too much neighborhood traffic.

“They say the school will benefit the neighborhood, but that never happens,” Crawford said.

The neighborhood is getting support from the area’s city commissioner, Peter Hernandez. “It’s very concerning to me. I can tell you people from the neighborhood are not happy with what they see and hear,’’ he said.

Hernandez will hold a community meeting to discuss the Ben Gamla proposal at City Hall on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m.

The proposed site for the school is on about 1.5 acres in the 2600 block of Van Buren St. that are now home to a 14-unit residential complex and two single-family houses The land is owned by 2648 Van Buren LLC and has an assessed value of approximately $840,000, according to state and county records.

Project site location is just south and west of Hollywood City Hall

Project site location is just south and west of Hollywood City Hall

A Van Buren LLC official, Richard D. Shan, confirmed his company has an agreement to sell the property contingent on the city’s approval of Deutsch’s plan to build the school. Shan, also an official with Shanco Construction, declined to disclose the sale price, but said, “They made us an offer and we accepted.”

Ben Gamla needs a zoning exception as well as a variance from land-use requirements that would allow the school to be built with less of a setback from the road than is usually required. This is necessary because the property is slightly undersized for the proposed plan.

Still, the fear of car-choked streets is the deal’s biggest roadblock. To remove it, Deutsch has hired traffic engineers to provide proposals to ease congestion, including an increase in the number of parent drop-off areas at both schools. He said the school would pay for police officers to direct traffic at key times.

“There are proposals to dramatically improve traffic flow for both schools,” he said.

Deutsch said the new school would be named the Doral-Ben Gamla Preparatory Academy and would reflect the teaching philosophies of the existing school as well as Miami-Dade’s well-regarded Doral Academy, which allows students to obtain college credits.

Doral Academy will partner with Ben Gamla at the proposed school in Hollywood; both have filed applications for approval by the Broward School Board.

Doral, which serves 2,800 students in grades six through 12, is managed by Academica, a large for profit charter school management company headquartered at 6340 Sunset Drive in South Miami.

Deutsch is the managing member for two similarly named limited liability corporations – Van Buren Facility 2 and Van Buren Facility – that use the same principal address.

Deutsch said he uses the Academica address because under state law, corporations must have a physical location to receive legal service, and he does not have a regular business office.

He added, however, that Ben Gamla pays Academica to manage its four schools. He said no decision has been made about the company providing management services for the new Doral-Ben Gamla school

According to city records, Deutsch and other Ben Gamla representatives, including former Hollywood City Attorney Alan Koslow, met with Mayor Peter Bober in City Hall on April 30 to discuss the school project.

“Mayor Bober is familiar with the issues…he’s supportive of the concept,” said Deutsch.

Bober did not return several phone messages seeking comment. Koslow could not be reached for comment.

The city’s Technical Advisory Committee reviewed Ben Gala’s preliminary plans in June. Ben Gamla was asked to provide more information, including how to ease traffic flow in the area.

Once the committee is satisfied it will forward the school’s plans to the Planning and Development Board. The planning board is expected to hold a hearing in November.

Under the city code, the planning board would render the final decision. There are several avenues of appeal, however.

The School Board must also approve the school.

Ben Gamla charter schools are free to students because of state funding directed through local school boards. They receive the same amount of funding per student as that received by regular public schools.

Ben Gamla stirred public debate about the separation of church and state before its opening. Ultimately, the School Board allowed the school to open after determining that its dual-language curriculum complied with state requirements.

Ben Gamla supporters have said the schools are nonreligious settings that offer an alternative to privately run Hebrew day schools where tuition can run well over $10,000 a year.

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  1. Peter Deutsch says:

    Your article is not an accurate reflection of the proposed “Doral-Ben Gamla Preparatory Academy”.

    60% of students in the proposed building would be enrolled in Doral Preparatory Academy not Ben Gamla. Doral would also be giving a “preference” to Hollywood residents so effectively 100% of the students at the new High School will be Hollywood residents (over 50% of present Ben Gamla students also live in Hollywood)!

    Doral High School has been an “A” rated School for the last 7. Doral High School has also been named as one of the top High Schools in the United States by “Newsweek” and the “Washington Post”. Doral High School has twice been named by “US News and World Reports” as one of the top 500 schools in the United States. Doral High School is the only High School in the United States that has a College, Doral College, on its campus. Students can get an AA and/or a BA degree for free while still in High School. Doral-Ben Gamla Preparatory Academy in Hollywood will have the same model.

    The traffic proposals would effect both the existing school and the proposed school. The resulting traffic flow would be better than the existing conditions.

    Finally, only 33 of the 5,128 Hollywood residents who go to public High School in Hollywood go to a Charter High School in Hollywood. In dramatic contrast 1,512 Hollywood residents who go to public K-8 Schools in Hollywood go to a Charter K-8 School in Hollywood. This data clearly show the need for a Charter High School in Hollywood!

  2. Hollywood Resident says:

    This project troubles me tremendously.
    1) We should be bringing people together in Hollywood, not separating them among racial lines as this school does just by its name. If you want a Jewish, or Irish, or whatever school, fine- pay for it out of your own pocket. Don’t expect me to pay for your segregated schooling.
    2) Why is Peter Bober so supportive of a traffic nightmare he won’t have to deal with? It’s easy for him to be in favor of it, all he has to do is go north on 26th all the way to Sheridan to get home.
    People that think this is a good idea should pay for it out of their own pockets and insist of building it in their own neighborhood.

  3. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    Peter Deutsch says “Doral would also be giving a “preference” to Hollywood residents so effectively 100% of the students at the new High School will be Hollywood residents”

    Effectively? Please. Giving preference doesn’t make anything effective but the promises and claims of the applicant.

    This is a classic example of developers’ statements and promises. Like water through a sieve.

    Traffic proposals are another example of the water/sieve. Proposals are what developers present. What the proposals actually represent is something else.

  4. Another Hollywood Resident says:

    As long time Hollywood residents, we are very excited with this new charter school opening. Our daughter is in 7th grade. I pray that it is open when she is ready for high school.

    I remember Van Buren Street near the Ben Gama Charter School before it was built. The whole street from 26th to the circle was an absolute dump. Putting that charter school there began gentrifying that section of our neighborhood. It stimulated investment on that street. Bottom line is that great neighborhood schools only raise the surrounding property values.

    It is some of the current Hollywood public schools’ academic performance and student conduct that are the real problem.

    We really do not want to send our daughter to Hollywood Hills. Check out the last FCAT test scores for yourself, you will see why.
    http://www.greatschools.org/florida/hollywood/314-Hollywood-Hills-High-School/?tab=test-scores

    We will likely have to move out of Hollywood if this school is not built.

  5. Deustch must be paying big bucks to the parents that make such statement to convince the neighborhood that this School fits this area. No way! The folks being paid to submit these comments don’t live here and do not care about the Community at all..

  6. Hollywood Resident says:

    Deustch is informing the residents of the area with false information telling us that there are tentative contracts on property in the area for the school.
    He has even shared a parking space with a resident who has lived on Van Burn St. for over sixty years. Deustch dose’n't care on bit about this elderly resident.
    The gentlmen is kind and willing to state that there is not way a four story building
    will fit the area. Deustch has not respect for the people of the Community at all.
    This school will not have a positive affect for this Community. At the present time the School has no regard for the Traffic problems it has created in the area.
    This is a huge HUGE SAFETY ISSUE FOR ALL HOLLYWOOD RESIDENTS . throughout the CITY.

  7. The news reporter from the Broward Bulldog.org has reported true and accurate facts about this issue and has pointed out how Mr. Deustch is forcing himself on a Community that does not want his project in their Community.

    There is nothing wrong with Schools however this project does not fit this
    Community. Traffic issues are the concern and the safety of all should be the concern of the impact of Mr. Deustch’s wanting what he wants not what is good for the Community.

    Mr Deustch is not forth coming and giving the Neighborhood any say in what they want and is not interested in listening the the residents of the neighborhood. He did not present this to the Community in a comprehensive manner and did not reveal this with any regard for the residents. His plan goes back to 2006,- 2007 when he was not accepted elsewhere and then in 2009 Deustch is imposing his plans again upon a Community without including the taxpayer. Residents who live in the Community for many many.are very offended by the actions the City Officials are taking regarding this issue. This project will effect all districts throughout the City.

    Comments from parents who do not live in the City or Community should not be making statements because they do not have any idea what they are talking about.
    Folks this dilemma that has been imposed upon the residents has nothing to do with FACTS Scores. Academics does not give Mr. Deustch the right to push a huge project into an area where it absolutely does not fit . Homeowners on the street are learning about Mr. Deustch’s project and they were never presented with this huge taking from the residents. Many many residents will be misplaced and Mr. Deustch has not given it a thought nor have the people who do not live in the immediate area know the effects this will have on the taxpayers. of the area.in all directions.

    The Deustch should take the time to read Mr. Deustch’s article from the Israel Paper . He reveals it all in he own words. Equality for all. Mr. Deustch. This is not Doral and the people who promote such underhandedness, let them enroll their children in the Doral School elsewhere.

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