A private Christian school is taking up residence at the building that was supposed to be the Princeton Mercer Bucks Jewish Community Center.

The Clarksville Road campus, an 81,000-square-foot multipurpose building on more than 50 acres, was always intended to house a religious school and a community center. But near the end of the construction process, fundraising from the JCC dried up and owner Matt Wilson, who had made the initial loan to jumpstart the project, had to figure out what to do with the building (U.S. 1, October 30, 2013).

Part of the answer was the creation of the Windsor Athletic Club, a public health and fitness center. Another part was renting office space to the Jewish Community Center, which also will run its summer camp from the campus.

The final part has come from the Wilberforce School, a private academy with about 140 students in grades K-8, that announced last week it is moving from the Princeton Center for Arts and Education on Mapleton Road and will begin classes next fall on the Clarksville Road campus.

Wilberforce School headmaster Howe Whitman says the building became available just as the school was looking to expand to offer a high school curriculum, beginning with grades 9 and 10 in the fall.

“We were working at the current campus to try to find a way to expand, and we were having trouble,” he says. “This new campus became available, and we loved it. It really fits the size we need to grow into.”

Adds Whitman: “We see it as a great providence of God that this became available just in time for our growth and that it was designed as a school.”

Wilberforce was founded by Whitman, his wife, Brenda, and David and Awilda Rowe. David is pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church and Awilda is a regional sales manager for the Mayo Clinic.

“We saw the need for a school based on the observation that children’s spiritual and character formation happen together. Even if you wanted to separate spiritual formation from academic, you couldn’t do it. We wanted to have a school that provided outstanding academic training that was integrated with a Christian view.”

In its first year it had just 28 students. “It’s fun to see it grow,” Whitman says. Tuition at the elementary school costs $14,490 a year, a rate comparable to secular private schools.

The school, named after William Wilberforce, the English Anglican minister who led the movement that abolished slavery in Britain in 1807, is non-denominational. Whitman, who attends the evangelical Stone Hill Church of Princeton, says there are students at the school who are Catholic, Protestant, Coptic, and Orthodox.

The school requires elementary school students to be Christian, but Whitman says when it opens, the upper school will admit non-Christian students. Christianity, however, is at the core of the school’s classical education curriculum, which includes Latin classes and was developed by a group called Trinity Schools. “We don’t explicitly teach Christianity in every class, but we have a Christian perspective on it all,” Whitman says.

Whitman grew up in a Christian family in Atlanta. His father was a real estate developer and his mother was a second grade teacher. Whitman, who lives in Hopewell, was a real estate developer before he founded the Wilberforce School, and was president of Canturbury Properties in Princeton. He has a bachelor’s from Princeton, Class of 1992, and an MBA from Penn. He has four children, all of whom attend the school.

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