GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – The long-discussed deal to use the former American Hebrew Academy property as a transitional facility for immigrant children is now official.

The board of the academy announced Friday that it had entered into a 5-year contract — with an option for 5 more years — with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide a transitional campus for immigrant children awaiting reunification with family members or others in the U.S.

American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro (Google Maps)

The academy has 100 acres at 4334 Hobbs Road that includes 31 buildings of 412,712 square feet, an $18 million athletic center and natatorium and a variety of athletic fields and even a 22-acre lake.

It has been empty but maintained since The American Hebrew Academy closed in 2019. Discussions with HHS first emerged in 2021 about the possibility of using the campus as a transitional facility.

In May, Guilford County Schools had broached the idea of purchasing the property under its school improvement bond passed by voters last month. The property had been valued at between $35 million and $45 million when the current ownership group bought it. Hebrew Academy officials say the school district did not end up reaching out.

The facility would be used to provide housing, classrooms and other services for children who are unaccompanied or who are waiting for family members and sponsors, the release said. It was unclear how many children might be housed there. HHS did not respond immediately to questions from WGHP.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan recounted to WGHP how she and Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro) and County Chair Melvin “Skip” Alston had been part of the initial meeting with DHHS officials but that there wasn’t much input from the city and county “because they didn’t anticipate using our services.

Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan (WGHP file photo)

“I think it’s a great opportunity to reunite children with their families,” Vaughan said. “This will be a one-of-a-kind facility primarily because of the type of facility it is right now. It’s not a detention facility. It’s not a shelter. It’s a youth village.

“Children can get a variety of services for a relatively short period of time.”

“I’m glad to see HSS putting this vacant site to good use,” Alston said in a joint release from the city and the county. “It is important to remember we are talking about a transition site for children. The facility is not a permanent home for unaccompanied minors.

Skip Alston (WGHP File Photo)

“ORR is legally required to provide for the care and custody of all unaccompanied children (UC) referred by DHS to ORR until they are appropriately and safely placed with a vetted sponsor. I can only imagine how emotionally and mentally difficult it must be to be a child in a new country, with a new language, to be all alone and separated from the comfort and support of the people you know who love and care about you.”

Vaughan said in the release that the children “will not be in the Guilford County School system. The facility will provide its own security. This will be a fully self-contained facility.”

The housing facility is expected to bring up to 800 new jobs ranging from

The Office of Refugee Resettlement operates approximately 200 state-licensed facilities of this kind in 22 states, the release said, fulfilling HHS’ legal responsibility for unaccompanied migrant children.

The release said DHHS would provide staffing for these services and up to 800 people would be hired to serve as administrators, teachers, counselors, medical care professionals and other workers to oversee the facility. The agency will also contract for services such as food service and security.

Vaughan said she was happy to learn that the facility would be “paying above the median salary and that there were a wide variety of jobs.” She said jobs had been advertised for about the past two weeks.

There is a particular need for Spanish-speaking professionals, the release said. Information about the positions can be found at Greensboro Global Academy’s website. Or interested parties can send an email to Recruiting@deployedservices.com.

“As a welcoming city, Greensboro is a part of Guilford County; and we also want to be a welcoming community for children in need,” Alston said. “We stand with our immigrant communities and have a lot of existing resources available to support this endeavor.”