Update on 21st Century Campus Project

May 3, 2017

Dear JTS Community,

The JTS 21st Century Campus Project has created a great amount of excitement and expectation not only within the JTS community but within the Conservative Movement and other parts of the Jewish world as well. As our Board of Trustees and administration provide the leadership for the redevelopment and re-imagining of our campus, we are making a profound statement about the need to reinvest in the training of our future Jewish leaders in North America. We are building a new campus that will enable students, faculty, and visitors to experience an enhanced sense of community, learn in more technologically advanced spaces, more readily access the outstanding and unique treasures which comprise our “Library of the Jewish Experience,” and be exposed to compelling ideas and artistic expression in our new auditorium/performance space. We are also affirming the vitality of the type of Judaism which we espouse—deeply rooted in our tradition and dynamically engaged with the society in which we live. Now that we are moving into the next phase of our project, and will start to see the new campus beginning to take form, I want to update you on several aspects of our plans.

Our new campus will reflect our values—the centrality of Torah learning and living, accessibility, community, and environmental sustainability—and the act of constructing our campus will reflect our values as well. During the course of this project we will create hundreds of jobs for workers in the New York City area, each one of whom will be treated with dignity and care. Our primary concerns are for our workers’ safety and that they earn a living wage.

We are hiring a full-time, New York-licensed site safety professional whose only job will be to oversee the safety of our workers on the construction site and in the community. As a general rule, the need for such a professional is only required on construction projects of ten stories or more (our project is eight stories), but we have decided not to seek an exemption for our project and will willingly incur the hundreds of thousands of dollars in expense on behalf of the workers at JTS and the community, as safety is our paramount concern.

We have selected a construction management company that has been widely recognized in the construction industry as having one of the best safety records and safety protocols in the business. Gilbane Building Company is a family-owned business that has been in existence for 140 years. It manages construction projects throughout the country and indeed around the world. It was selected based on a variety of factors, including (1) its safety record; (2) its reputation for integrity; (3) its significant experience in the education and higher education markets; (4) its size and involvement in other, much larger construction projects in the area, which provides it with the ability to attract high quality subcontractors to our project; (5) its record for diversity and inclusion, including numerous diversity awards from groups such as the National Association of Minority Contractors; and (6) its commitment to environmental sustainability, including a large number of LEED-accredited personnel, minimum waste diversion, and comprehensive green education.

In addition to the many industry safety awards Gilbane has received, its safety record—including its  OSHA (the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recordable incident rate and its Experience Modification Rate (which the insurance industry applies to determine insurance rates)—is far better than industry norms. In critical safety areas, such as fall prevention, Gilbane goes well beyond what OSHA requires.

Gilbane will bid the different aspects of the project on a “merit shop” basis.  This model allows the selection of subcontractors on the basis of merit and allows all construction firms—union and non-union—who meet the necessary requirements (including safety and wages) to participate in the project. In New York City, a significant majority of new construction, particularly in the non-commercial arena, has adopted this model.

The merit shop model was deemed to be most appropriate for the JTS project for several reasons.  First, since the majority of construction workers in New York are non-union, the merit shop model allows JTS to select subcontractors from a much broader array of firms and therefore, we are more likely to get the quality, timeliness, value, and other elements that are critical to our project. Also, the JTS project has a level of complexity not found in standard apartment and office buildings. We therefore need to be able to select from the largest possible subcontracting pool that meets the requisite living wage and safety standards to insure that we can obtain the skills and responsiveness that we need.

There is no question that union subcontractors can successfully compete in the merit shop model, which is proven by the fact that JTS has already spent or committed many millions of dollars to union subcontractors. For example, both the demolition subcontractor and the subcontractor we recently hired to perform the excavation and foundation work (which will commence in a few weeks and continue through the rest of the year) are union shops.

In addition to meeting stringent safety requirements, no subcontractor on the JTS project will be retained unless it agrees to pay its workers at least a living wage as defined by New York law. In fact, because of the high demand for construction workers in New York City, most workers will be paid more than that amount. 

By focusing on safety, by insisting that workers be paid a living wage, and by treating all workers fairly and with dignity, JTS is holding itself to the high ethical aspirations reflected in the responsum on workers and labor relations of the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. We have consulted with our halakhic experts, Rabbi Danny Nevins and Rabbi David Hoffman, both of whom are members of the Law Committee and were on the committee when the responsum was approved. They have assured us that our actions are fully consistent with the guidance of the responsum.

We are building a project of which we are proud now and will be proud of in the future.


Marc Gary
Executive Vice Chancellor and COO