architectural update 2017

In the four-and-a-half decades since we broke ground for our original building, we have undertaken projects large and small – sometimes at significant cost – in response to the needs, wishes, and dreams identified by current members for the immediate present and with future generations in mind.

The Board of Directors is now considering a major renovation and expansion, the first since 1995, to meet the needs of our still-evolving community.

In 2015, we received a grant from the Center for Congregations to complete an assessment of the building: how could we make the space more warm and welcoming? Is our present footprint meeting our needs?

A survey was sent to the entire membership and garnered several dozen responses. There were in-depth meetings with committee chairs and staff.

A year ago, Board members presented a preliminary schematic at 2 congregational meetings, one possible design that might meet our goals and priorities as a community. The plan included a single large expansion adjacent to the Sanctuary (relocation of all offices along with an enlarged foyer and seating area) as well as significant renovation throughout the building.

Member feedback was gathered at those meetings, and afterwards via email and face-to-face conversation. Our Design Committee co-chairs then put in many hours studying congregant concerns, speaking to those who use the building each day, and consulting with an architect about direction. They drew up a realistic proposal addressing major concerns about space, welcome, storage, energy efficiency, and accessibility.

There is likely no perfect plan that will meet all our needs now and into the future. There is limited space on our property for expansion. Building up is far too expensive. Purchasing land and starting all over is, at this point, a lovely fantasy. Money is, of course, always a factor.

The choice before us is whether to do something or nothing – and what “something” makes the most sense? 

THE VISION

Since the year of our last major expansion, Beth Shalom has grown by 30%, from approximately 155 member households to 200+.

More people use the building every day – Gan Shalom little ones (and their parents), Gathering participants, adult education attendees, Mitzvah mavens, volunteers of all kinds. On any given Sunday, we might host up to 6 different events including religious school, youth programs, panel discussions, and cooking projects.

This proposed plan reimagines our building in the service of promoting Jewish community, welcoming the stranger, and providing comfortable space for education, worship, and social engagement. 

It has the following goals:

Create shared spaces in which congregants can sit and talk with one another. The renovation includes 3 such small spaces without creating disturbance for those in the Sanctuary, at their jobs, or in classrooms. On warm days, a patio in the back of the building will also be a gathering spot.

Beautify our physical surroundings and make them more inviting to members & visitors alike: spruce up our beloved, but somewhat drab and dark, interiors. Insure we have adequate lighting, shelving for prayer books. Renovate walls and ceilings that are slowly falling apart. Replace windows and doors long in disrepair.

Create more programming and classroom space. We are presently packed to the gills! During the week, Gan Shalom uses the back social hall as a classroom and the front social hall as a place for naps and play. When we have a Bnai Mitzvah or during the High Holidays, all furniture and equipment must be moved out, only to move it back in time for religious school on Sunday. The Jewish Renewal minyan has moved into the Library to help reduce staff workload – though it is not optimum to squeeze 30 people in to the Library as presently configured.

Expand our capacity for storage. We presently rent a storage facility because there is simply no place to put them. Chairs and tables must be stacked in our social hall. There are makeshift storage areas throughout the building. This plan includes more and better organized storage.

Foster a comfortable work environment for our staff, one that helps them get their jobs done with a minimum of disruption and a maximum of organization.

DETAILS OF THE PROPOSAL

The proposal includes significant renovation of our existing space – seating, library, offices, social halls, hallways, and storage areas – as well as a 15% expansion of the building, with a sanctuary foyer and added classroom at the south of the building. A PDF of the proposal can be found here. Areas highlighted in blue indicate an expansion of our current footprint and areas highlighted in yellow indicate renovation.

RENOVATION

This part of the proposal focuses on our existing space: beautifying, upgrading, and rearranging to maximize a sense of welcome and creatively use what we’ve got.

·       Retain the 2 entry locations that we presently have.

·       Creation of a small seating area outside the office (from space now part of the office) to offer chairs for people waiting to meet with the Rabbi and a place for quick conversations; removing those activities from the middle of the office.

·       Creation of a seating nook near the kitchen for socializing and noshing (by using space currently part of a large storage closet, as most of those items will be housed in the new classroom).

·       Renovation of Library to create a multi-purpose space: flooring, lighting, windows, door/entryway, and reconfiguration of shelving to increase space while still maintaining important book collections.

·       Renovation of entry area near the office: flooring, lighting, walls, cut-out for seating, interior door & windows, and exterior canopy.

·       Renovation of both Social Halls: new flooring, ceiling and wall treatment, lighting, windows, some inside doors, external doors leading out to the back patio, and operable noise-damping partitions.

·       Renovation of existing hallway near Sanctuary: new flooring, lighting, wall treatments, display and book storage cabinets.

·       Conversion of “back” classrooms adjacent to the sanctuary into much needed storage space for large tables, stacks of chairs, and other items as well as a new location for heating units.

·       The Sanctuary ramp is not in this proposal, as it would require an expansion of our building beyond the present plan. The Inclusion Committee is investigating alternatives to a ramp.

EXPANSION

Even if we use every square inch, we still come up short in usable space for our evolving and growing community. This part of the proposal expands our footprint in front & rear.

·       Expand the foyer near the sanctuary to be more warm and welcoming: include a small seating area, coatroom, ADA bathroom, and gift shop cabinet (with improved lighting!). This space is 768 square feet, approximately 60% less than the previous proposal; it will take up much less “green space” in our front yard while still incorporating a gathering area, accessible bathroom, and better flow into the Sanctuary. This also makes use of what is, at present, an oddly shaped foyer with lots of unusable space.

·       Construction of new Gan Shalom/ Religious School classroom (1035 sq. ft.) at the back of the building, adjacent to the “new” social hall where there is presently a patio and AC units. The room would include storage space and small bathroom. This would allow Gan Shalom to move completely out of the “old” social hall (cutting down on wear & tear), where we celebrate Oneg Shabbat weekly and often hold programs. The “new” social hall will no longer serve as a permanent classroom, filled with furniture and toys, but will instead be used only for indoor recess and romping activities.

·       Construction of a patio and retaining walls in the “backyard,’ south of the social halls. Doorways from the new classroom and the back social hall would open directly onto the patio, creating an indoor-outdoor area for programs and simchas.

COSTS

The preliminary cost estimate for the proposal is between $573,000 and $769,000. These figures are based on the national square foot average for renovation and new construction. Any change in final design will likely mean a change in cost. This does not include architect or other related fees.

We would pay for any project by a combination of existing savings, targeted fundraising, and a mortgage. We are likely to see a small increase in membership dues if we take out a mortgage, though it is impossible to know the exact amount. The Board is committed to making any dues increase affordable for all our members – including those of limited means.

OTHER QUESTIONS

Is this the final plan? This schematic is the next step in our ongoing discussion. Changes can, and will likely, be made if we decide to move forward. All good ideas are welcome!  Before we undertake any renovation and/or expansion, an architect will be hired to draw up detailed plans to be utilized by contractors. At that point, all the dozens of small details will be decided.

What about plans for a Bimah ramp? There is no ramp to the Bimah in this proposal. We have no available space in our Sanctuary to include a ramp. Building codes (and physics) dictate a certain amount of space for the ramp; we would have to extend the front foyer out well past the current plan to include it. Lowering the bimah itself is a possibility, though also quite complicated. The Inclusion Committee is currently researching other alternatives.

What about energy efficiency? We are committed to making this project as energy efficient as possible while still providing for our needs as a congregation. In general, new construction is more energy efficient – insulation, building materials, and design have all been improved. We will consider installation of solar panels on the new classroom facing South. Our heating and cooling equipment must be the highest rated energy star possible. Replacing leaky windows and doors throughout the building will improve temperature control (not to mention security).

What about water and drainage issues? Flooding rooms. Giant puddles in the back of our building. We have water problems, for sure. We’ve already taken some steps, including installation of a new door in a classroom to the east of the sanctuary, to address this long-standing problem. At present, our House Committee (chaired by Sharon Wainshilbaum) is collecting information and bids from civil engineers regarding next steps. Any renovation and/or expansion will coordinate with recommended findings and solutions.