Tikkun Olam—Repairing the World

The Gottesman RTW Academy (formerly the Hebrew Academy of Morris County), in Randolph, NJ, broke ground on its new building in March of 2014, to replace the original facility built in 1980. The new building will feature hi-tech, flexible and expandable classrooms, a science center, sanctuary, auditorium, gymnasium and cafeteria. The Gottesman Academy has offered a Judaic and secular curriculum for students in nursery through the 8th grade since 1967, and expects to open its new doors in the fall of 2015. A fundraising campaign was simultaneously launched to raise $23+ million, of which $18 million will go toward capital and $5+ million will go into the endowment fund for the future of the school.

In contrast to the recent flurry of developments at the Gottesman Academy, yet in keeping with its teachings, the Jewish community’s steady commitment to “Tikkun Olam” dates back thousands of years.

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase interpreted to mean, “repairing the world.” It suggests humanity’s shared responsibility to mend and transform the world into a better place. Tikkun Olam can be practiced in many ways—from philanthropic giving and community service to environmental awareness and small acts of kindness, this Jewish tradition remains an integral part of everyday life.

As applied to the Gottesman Academy, Tikkun Olam takes several forms. The architectural design of the new building encompasses much sensitivity to the surrounding environment. Mature trees have been preserved and incorporated into the landscape of the building. Trees that are cut down will become furniture, and additional recycled materials will become part of the building. A community garden will teach farm-to-table methodologies, a fragrant garden will grow herbs used in spiritual ceremonies, and rain gardens will incorporate native plant species.

The Gottesman Academy has already been named as the first school in New Jersey to make the Green School Honor Roll by The Green Schools Initiative, a non-profit organization of environmental and educational advisors based in California. Green initiatives at the Gottesman Academy include the use of non-toxic cleaning materials, the encouragement of reusable thermoses, food containers, and utensils, the provision of recycling bins and compostable serving materials—and greenhouse and composting education.

The Gottesman Academy is also aiming to conserve energy—specifically looking to solar power as a way to produce over 75% of its electricity. But to make solar work both environmentally and financially, the Gottesman Academy needed a bright idea, and found one via Steven Levy, Treasurer of the school’s Board of Trustees. Although financial incentives for solar power are available through both federal and state governments, the federal program is designed as a tax break directed at for-profit entities, rendering it inapplicable to the school which operates as a non-profit.

Enlightenment came in the form of an LLC created in the name of SoulR Partners, a for-profit company put together by the investors and stakeholders connected to the Gottesman Academy. This partnership will purchase the solar equipment, manage its energy production, and sell its electricity to the Gottesman Academy in a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA). In a win-win scenario, SoulR Partners LLC benefits from the federal tax incentive and the Gottesman Academy buys electricity at a discounted rate from a reliable, well known, and “green” energy producer.

Specific incentives being utilized by SoulR Partners include the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) at 30% for residential (under Section 25D) and commercial (under Section 48) properties. The existing ITC is available until 2016. An additional federal incentive is available as a Depreciation (Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System) in the 5-year property class (under MACRS GDS), allowing for quick return on investment.

In addition to federal incentives, the State of New Jersey offers full exemption from the state’s sales tax (currently at 7%) for all solar energy equipment. New Jersey also exempts renewable energy systems from local property taxes. Performance-based incentives are available in the form of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), which can be compared to shares of stock, and are the revenue portion of a solar photovoltaic system. One SREC certificate is issued for each 1,000 kWh of electricity produced. SRECs are earned by a newly installed solar power system for 15 years and can be sold on an open market at changing daily values.

It is the intention of SoulR Partners LLC to donate the solar power system to the Gottesman Academy once its investors fully recover their investments. At that point in time, the school will take over the responsibility of managing its own energy source while continuing to benefit from the system financially. For the Gottesman Academy, sound environmental sustainability will lead to sound financial sustainability: the school’s utilization of solar power is expected to generate more than $750,000 in financial benefits over the natural life of the system, which is projected to last approximately 25 years.

SoulR Partners LLC has chosen to partner with Green Power Energy, an Annandale, New Jersey, based system integrator, and has received local zoning board approval for the system. Final array designs are underway and are expected to be installed and operational for the Academy’s opening in the fall of 2015.

Solar energy is in keeping with both the objectives and the philosophy of the Gottesman Academy. The school’s commitment to sustainability in its new facility is realized in multiple ways—a large portion of which falls under the umbrella of energy conservation, which also dovetails with the agenda of the Green Schools Initiative. Plentiful, achievable, and thanks to determined, creative thinking—affordable —solar energy greatly contributes to the bright future of the Gottesman RTW Academy and to the care of the world’s environment.

Tikkun Olam.