Building for the Future: A Transformation
Mar 20th 2015

Quality architecture starts with respect and builds on trust

Two years ago, Carolyn Kolers (then President) and I (then Chair of the Board) joined with a group of dedicated members of the Congregation, skilled in the business of building and property development, to re-start the process of developing plans to renew and revitalize our Synagogue building. We recognized that the building was in dire need of repair and that changes were necessary in order to sustain us as a congregation for generations to come. Balancing those needs with the desire to preserve and protect the integrity of the original design and our guiding objective to create flexible, functional spaces, four key areas of improvement were identified: the Sanctuary, the Jacob Hendeles Chapel, the Paul and Ted Orenstein Mezzanine Hall and the parking lot entrance. A new Renovation Committee was then born, now co-chaired by Stephen Kauffman and me. Carolyn shared these renewal plans with the Congregation in her 2012 Kol Nidrei address and related President’s column, and the Renovation Committee subsequently worked to develop preliminary conceptual plans which were presented at two town hall meetings about one year ago. We were encouraged by the positive responses, and last spring we formed the Architect Selection Committee to continue to move the process forward. I want to inform you of the progress we have made and what lies ahead.

This past October, the Architect Selection Committee issued a request for proposals to a number of major architectural firms and received four responses. The responses were reviewed, the four firms made presentations to this Committee, and ultimately Hariri Pontarini was chosen as the firm of architects for our project. Siamak Hariri, as principal-in-charge, and Doron Meinhard, as lead architect, will be leading their team. I quote from their submission to us:

“Quality architecture starts with respect and builds on trust. In working with various public and cultural institutions, we have come to understand intimately the heart of such a community and its attendant needs and requirements. The insights of everyone involved in the process are essential to creating spaces that are inspiring to users and attuned to their settings. We build consensus among groups, considering varying viewpoints and needs, to come to well-crafted, enduring and sustainable solutions.

“A holistic long-term plan is needed for the building. Through the years, various unplanned additions have resulted in inefficient use of space and awkward circulation. Interior and exterior renovations are also needed to maintain the building envelope, improve its energy efficiency, and upgrade to current building code standards. Beth Tzedec Congregation must rethink and reconfigure individual spaces to create a cohesive building that accommodates its congregation’s changing needs, and look toward its future growth.

“Improving the intimacy and adaptability of spaces is a primary consideration. The goal of the renovation projects is to create spaces that encourage highly engaging, participatory experiences. Among the many needed improvements, Beth Tzedec Congregation has prioritized the following projects:

  • Updating the Sanctuary to increase warmth and intimacy, and improve flexibility, accessibility, energy efficiency, and sight-lines and sound quality.
  • Expanding the Chapel to accommodate more seating and improve lighting and sound.
  • Creation of a new, elegant entrance from the west end parking lot, improving security and harmonizing kitchen, office and loading dock needs.
  • Review of the building envelope. 
  • Updating and expanding some existing spaces, such as the Mezzanine Hall, Banquet Hall, Board Room, Lounge and offices.”

In the Sanctuary, in order to achieve these priorities, we are considering raising the floor to the level of the foyer, thereby eliminating all stairs from the foyer and making the Sanctuary accessible from several entrances. We would also create an accessible bimah (as I announced to the Congregation on Yom Kippur). A removable divider would be added, hanging down from the lip of the balcony, giving us the flexibility of having both the ability to expand the area of the Banquet Hall for large smaẖot and dinners, and a new multi-media equipped meeting space ideal for educational purposes. The flexibility built into this plan would preserve our capability to use this space as part of the Sanctuary for prayer and other events by having the partitions open at both the west and east ends.

The Jacob Hendeles Chapel is one of the most frequently used rooms in the building and is in need of a 

complete overhaul. The seating is uncomfortable, its capacity is too small for our needs and many users would like the option of having a centre bimah. We intend to increase its capacity to around 350 people and to equip it with a moveable bimah. We could then use the Chapel more often for Shabbat services as an alternative to the Sanctuary.

We look forward to making the Paul and Ted Orenstein Mezzanine Hall a bright, sun-filled space for celebrating smaẖot. We aim to make it a sought-after venue for weddings, b’nei mitzvot and community activities and to provide a source of revenue to the Congregation. We are also exploring the possibility of having a roof-top terrace adjacent to this Hall which could be used for outdoor weddings and summer davening, as well as housing our Congregational Sukkah each fall.

Upon entry from the parking lot, congregants should appreciate that they are entering a magnificent shul and that all its space is sacred. To accomplish this, the corridor from this entry leading to and including the foyer will form an open and inviting “spine” serving the major rooms of the shul.

As these plans begin to take shape, it was an honour to welcome the Minister of Finance, the Honourable Joe Oliver, to Beth Tzedec on February 20, when he formally announced the awarding of a grant to us from the federal government’s Enabling Accessibility Fund. We shall use this grant as seed money to improve accessibility of our Sanctuary.

I want to close with a todah rabbah to our Cantor Simon and Larry Wallach for bringing us the Motown Megillah Sing-Along and Dinner, and a pitch to participate in one of Beth Tzedec’s annual premier events. This year’s Mother’s Day Chai Tea & Fashion Show: Passport to Style, will be held on Sunday, May 10, thanks to the efforts of committee chair Patti Rotman and her dedicated team of volunteers. This very successful fundraiser has become a Mother’s Day tradition for over 250 women of all ages and has raised in excess of $38,000 to support our Out of the Cold Program. If you cannot attend, please consider calling the Synagogue office to place an ad in the Women of Honour Booklet in honour or memory of all the special women in your lives.

Hag kasher v’sameaẖ
to all!