Colette M. Jenkins

Beth El Congregation is selling its West Akron synagogue and moving to the Jerry Shaw Jewish Community Center.

The move from the current location at 464 S. Hawkins Ave. is something that its membership has considered for more than 15 years because of its shrinking size.

The conversation about constructing a chapel at the JCC campus on White Pond Drive intensified during the last two years.

The official decision came this week, after a deal was reached with Summit Academy to buy the South Hawkins Avenue property. An agreement with the charter school to purchase the property — appraised at $880,000 — for $715,000 was made before the congregation could list it with a real-estate agent.

“It was a great coincidence. One of our congregants is a real-estate agent and one of his clients is Summit Academy. He knew the school needed a building and he asked if they would be interested in looking at the synagogue,” said Gary M. Rosen, Beth El’s president. “It’s what we call a shidduch, a Yiddish term that means ‘like a match made in heaven.’ ”

On Sunday, 248 members of the Conservative synagogue gathered for a special meeting to consider giving its board approval to proceed with the sale of the South Hawkins property and to continue planning and fundraising for a new worship site. The vote was 239 in favor and seven against, with two members abstaining.

“I was overwhelmed by the support of the congregation,” Rosen said. “We are very enthusiastic about what our future looks like.”

Rosen estimates that the 325-household congregation has shrunk to about half its size from 40 years ago. The newly constructed chapel will be smaller than the synagogue’s current facility.

“We are dealing with some of the same issues that other religious institutions are dealing with as the population shifts,” Rosen said. “While we are comparatively on a smaller scale, we’ve had to face the same decisions that our Catholic friends have made [to downsize]. The difference is that each synagogue has to decide what is best for a particular congregation rather than a regional body or diocese making the decision.”

The Beth El Congregation expects to be out of its current building by Aug. 1.

The congregation will worship in the conference room and auditorium at the JCC, until its chapel can be constructed. No timetable has been set for what is expected to be a million-dollar addition that will be built adjacent to the center’s front entrance at 750 White Pond Drive. In fact, the congregation has yet to draw up the plans for its new chapel. Its offices will be relocated to current space at the JCC.

While the congregation is getting settled into its new home at the JCC, Summit Academy officials plan to move its high school, grades 9-12, from its current location at 864 E. Market St. in Akron. The school, operated by Summit Academy Management, serves about 60 students for six local school districts, according to David Norman, chief operating officer.

Summit Academy Management operates 26 charter schools (privately operated schools that receive state funding based on enrollment and other factors) in 14 Ohio cities that serve about 2,700 students. More than 90 percent of Summit’s students have mild to moderate cognitive disabilities, including attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, high-functioning autism and Asperger’s disorder. It employs more than 700 people in the state of Ohio.

“While we still have to do our due diligence before the sale is closed, we are excited to have a building that will allow us room for growth,” Norman said. “Right now, we are maxed out at the East Market Street Building. The Beth El building is better suited for education because it will give us larger classrooms and activity rooms.”

Norman said there are no plans to sell the property that currently houses Summit Academy’s high school nor two other properties at 847 and 855 E. Market. The latter two properties are currently used as a martial arts school and for storage.

Summit Academy does plan to do some remodeling at the Hawkins Avenue property before beginning classes there for the 2012-2013 school year. Plans, which are expected to extend beyond next school year, include adding a gymnasium, Norman said.

Like Summit Academy, Beth El’s congregation is hopeful that their move will help it become more vibrant.

“What we’re doing makes economic sense, but our goal is to develop a stronger community,” Rosen said. “In addition to building a strong congregational community, we hope to help build a stronger Jewish community by partnering with our sister Jewish organizations, many of which are located right there at the Jewish Community Center.”

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com.