Building for Beth Shalom's future: Update

Since our last major expansion in 1994, Beth Shalom has grown by 30%, from about 155 member households to just over 200.

In the years since, we have renovated the kitchen and main bathrooms, and replaced the lighting, sound, and heating/cooling in our Sanctuary as well as completing beautification a few short weeks ago.

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. 

priorities & goals

A PDF of the schematic can be found here

An updated summary sheet from November 29 is here.

Create more programming and classroom space. We are presently packed to the gills! On Sundays, we use every single space in the building and still don't have enough room. A social hall is not an optimal classroom; neither is the Rabbi's office. Programs are held off-site or in cramped quarters. The Renewal minyan squeezes 30 people into the Library to avoid having pre-K teachers disassemble their classroom. 

Create shared spaces in which congregants can sit and schmooze. The renovation is designed with 3 small spaces for gathering that minimize 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 available.

Beautify our physical surroundings to 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 in disrepair.

Expand our capacity for storage. We presently rent a storage facility because there is no place to put everything—equipment for the High Holy Days, Purim and Passover supplies, the sukkah, and more. Chairs and tables are stacked in our social hall and shifted around regularly. 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.

Elements of the Plan

A PDF of the schematic can be found here

The schematic includes significant renovation of our existing space -- beautifying, upgrading, and rearranging what is already there -- as well as a 16% expansion of the building, with a sanctuary foyer and added classroom at the south of the building. Even if we use every square inch of our building, we still come up short for our evolving and growing community. This plan relies on both to answer our priorities.

Before we undertake any renovation and expansion, an architect will be hired to draw up a detailed design to be utilized by contractors. At that point, dozens of small and medium details will be decided.


Construction of new Gan Shalom/ Religious School classroom & activity space (1035 sq. ft.) at the back of the building, adjacent to the “new” social hall. The room includes storage and a bathroom.

·       During the week, we will use this designed-for-children space as the Gan Shalom Pre-K classroom for up to 25 children, reducing wear & tear on the hallways and bathrooms as well as freeing up storage near the kitchen and allowing us to create more seating space for informal gatherings.

·       On Sunday, we will use this as a much-needed Religious school classroom and a venue for the activities of our newly created youth groups for kids through 7th grade. We will also be able to sponsor activities such as PJ Library programs or Chanukah & Sukkot art activities (and leave space in the social hall for food and adults).

·       We will also host our popular Family dinner and Oneg one Friday a month in the back social hall without complicating the set up for adult services and Oneg.  When we have a weekend event such as our Welcome Back Brunch, Hanukah Bazaar, Saturday evening fundraiser, or Bnai Mitzvah – not to mention during the High Holidays – Gan Shalom and other staff will be freed from moving furniture and equipment, only to move it back in time for religious school on Sunday.

Expand the foyer near the sanctuary to be more warm and welcoming: include a small seating area with noise barrier, coatroom, gift shop cabinet with improved lighting, and ADA bathroom so that individuals in wheelchairs do not have to use the bathrooms at the other end of the building. This space is 768 square feet and will take up much less “green space” in our front yard than the first schematic. This also improves our oddly shaped foyer with lots of presently unusable space.

Construction of a patio and retaining walls 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.


How does Gan Shalom fit into this plan?

Gan Shalom is a well-respected preschool in the Bloomington community.  Classes fill up a few days after enrollment opens and families are often on a waitlist for a year.  The Nemerim (Pre-K) classroom is the biggest it has ever been, with 24 children.  

Over one hundred Jewish children have graduated from Gan Shalom since its inception – 48 current member households began the Jewish education of their children in the program, joining our congregation earlier than they would have otherwise.  Almost 25% of our present household membership consists of present or former Gan Shalom families!

If we want to continue to attract young families, we need a space that fosters exploration as well as the best early childhood educators possible – people who will spend their time with our children and not with furniture!

Parents have served on the Beth Shalom Board, volunteered on committees, and worked tirelessly on behalf of the synagogue – coordinating Seders, writing our Purim shpiel, spearheading events, chairing committees, and initiating social justice programs. Gan Shalom has become a landing point and meeting place for many Israeli families with young children as their parents join and remain at Beth Shalom, not a norm for Israelis back home.

Gan Shalom is committed to contributing as much as possible through reserve funds, a Gan Shalom building fee and a campaign to solicit donations from parents and grandparents of alumni. 

For more detailed information about how the present Gan Shalom impacts students and teachers -- and how the plan might improve our already excellent program, click here.


Retain the 2 current entry locations by the office (for everyday traffic) and by the Sanctuary (for services and events).

Creation of a small seating area outside the office for people waiting to meet the Rabbi as well as a place for conversation that doesn’t disturb the Office Manager.

Creation of a seating nook near the kitchen for socializing and noshing (using space from part of a large storage closet freed up by the addition of a new classroom).

Renovation of the Library to create a multi-purpose space with comfortable seating, better lighting and windows, a friendlier feel, and reconfiguration of shelving to increase usable space while maintaining important book collections.

Renovation of entry area near the office to create a more warm and welcoming area. Updating old and worn floors, improving lighting, installing easier-to-use doors & windows, and installation of an exterior canopy to protect congregants better in inclement weather. 

Renovation of both Social Halls: These areas are desperately in need of cosmetic and structural update so that programs, events, and receptions can take place in comfortable, beautiful, and usable space with a minimum of schlepping – new flooring, walls without layers of old wallpaper, better lighting, secure and working windows, less cumbersome doors, and noise-damping partitions.

Renovation of the existing hallway near Sanctuary that includes adequate shelving for our prayer books & Chumashim, better lighting that enables congregants and visitors to see where they are going, and updated flooring, lighting, and paint.

Renovation of classrooms “behind” the sanctuary to update one classroom (children and teachers should not have to sit in cold, damp, cluttered rooms to learn Torah!) as well as add storage space. Renovation of classrooms elsewhere in the building as needed.



Why not take smaller steps over a longer period rather than tackle one big project all at once?

The Board of Directors has discussed this issue at great length over a period of 2 years. We have opted for an all-inclusive approach for three main reasons:

(1)  The various components of renovation and expansion work best as a unit. To only focus on one area or another does not address our combined needs for space, remodeling, storage, and beauty.

(2)  The architects have urged this approach as it will save money over the long run due to economy of scale of labor, materials, and design.

(3)  It is unrealistic to assume that multiple Boards, over multiple terms, will be able or willing to sustain separate or distinct architectural projects given the enormous amount of work involved in planning for and funding anything having to do with facilities. 

Is this project fair to members who do not have pre-school or school age children?

The literal answer is that the benefits of renovation and expansion accrue to the membership as a whole: more program space, a warm and welcoming atmosphere, adequate storage for prayer books, etc. And unless we continue to attract young families who become familiar and comfortable with Beth Shalom through our education of children from a young age, we cannot sustain our community into the future.

Or as the Babylonian Talmud teaches us:

One day Honi was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, "How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?" The man replied: "Seventy years." Honi then further asked him: "Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?" The man replied: "I found already grown carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me so I too plant these for my children."

Cost Estimates

The preliminary cost estimate for the full renovation & expansion is between $573,000 and $769,000. These figures are based on the national square foot average for renovation and new construction of commercial buildings. Any change in final design – different materials, an additional door, another classroom – will almost certainly mean a change in cost.  These figures do not include architect fees.

We will pay for the cost of expansion and renovation from a combination of existing savings, targeted fundraising, and mortgage if necessary. We are likely to see an increase in membership dues if we take out a mortgage, though the Board is committed to fundraising to the largest extent possible so as to avoid or minimize this cost. We will not buy a house – or build a building – we can’t afford. The Board is also committed to making any dues increase affordable for all our members, including those of limited means. 

Congregational Input to Date

In 2015, we received a grant from the Center for Congregations to complete an assessment of the building with the goal of making our space more warm, welcoming, accessible, and user-friendly.

A electronic and paper survey was sent to the Beth Shalom membership and garnered several dozen responses asking for the positives and negatives of our physical infrastructure. There were in-depth meetings with committee chairs, staff, and others who frequently use the building.

In March 2016, Board members presented a preliminary schematic at a congregational meetings (held at 2 different times): one possible design that might meet the goals and priorities identified by the community. That plan included a single large expansion adjacent to the Sanctuary with relocation of all offices and an enlarged foyer & seating area) as well as significant renovation throughout the entire building. We also presented possible cost scenarios including fundraising, a mortgage, use of existing Beth Shalom funds, and dues increases.

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 our architect about direction. Working with our architect, they drew up a second and more realistically affordable proposal addressing the major concerns of space, welcome, storage, efficiency, and accessibility.

In February 2017, this schematic was made available to all members on our website (and paper copies were sent upon request through publicity in the Bulletin) for comment. At that time we received 49 individual responses.

There have also been regular updates in the monthly Bulletin. In May 2017, we discussed the project at the annual membership meeting; this document has been prepared in response to that discussion.