On July 3, 1997, in a secret meeting at the Knesset with then-infrastructure minister Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert and deputy construction and housing minister Meir Porush, the decision was made to have the army vacate the Schneller Compound and to use the plot for a large project for the haredi population. At the time, the plan included a yeshiva for Gur Hassidim and some additional public institutions for other haredi groups. This decision canceled a previous one, according to which 800 housing units and 400 hotel rooms were to be built on the grounds of the Protestant orphanage and its compound. That change of plan would have cost the state some NIS 50 million, so soon after that another decision was made - this time to add to the project 500 housing units, still exclusively for the haredi population of the neighborhood. The major change in the original project came after intense pressure from the haredi community through its representative MK Meir Porush, who was opposed to any plan to build high-rises (originally, the project included 18-story structures), as the haredim refused to have any building taller than four floors. On the other hand, there was a serious need to find a solution to finance the project, at least partly, through private money. The NIS 50 million needed to finance moving the army out of the compound would not be covered by a private building initiative. "Building a yeshiva and a few public institutions and canceling the 400 hotel rooms would definitively deprive the project of any appeal for private contractors," explained the then-representative of the Israel Lands Administration. "The state would have to finance it." Shortly after the secret meeting - which, of course, became public knowledge within a few days - a solution was found: to finance the Schneller project partly through an additional tender to build hundreds of housing units in Ramot Eshkol and Ramat Shlomo. For that purpose, the municipality, through its planning and constructing committee (headed then by deputy mayor Uri Lupolianski), changed the plans of these neighborhoods, turning plots for public spaces such as parks into construction sites. Over the years, additional changes were included. Today, the project comprises public buildings: a community center, perhaps a medical center, a girls' school and boys' kindergartens, as well as the central yeshiva and 632 housing units. Later on, the plot was transferred by the Israel Lands Administration to the Jerusalem Municipality for the legal planning, and now a tender is expected to be launched for the construction planning. - P.C.

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