Updates on the building project were provided at the Annual General Meeting on June 5th and were also shared at information meetings at the shul on June 16 and June 26, 2016.
Over the past decade or so, it has become increasingly evident to members of the First Narayever Congregation that our building is not meeting our needs. In fact, it presents two of our most pressing challenges: the need for more space and the need to make our building accessible to all.
Many aspects of shul life are hampered and constrained due to the lack of space. This includes programming for children and youth, adult education, social events, and administrative facilities – not to mention the fact that there is no room for a rabbi’s study.
As a congregation, we value inclusivity, equity and diversity, explicitly. It is therefore almost unconscionable for us to preclude members and guests who have mobility challenges from being able to attend our shul.
To quote Rabbi Ed:
“Looking to the future, we must find a way to ensure that people in wheelchairs or have mobility impairments have a dignified way to enter our building, participate in services and other programs, and access the washrooms. The time is now”.
We love our building but we know it must change if we are to provide for the future of the congregation and meet our objectives of inclusivity. Therefore, the Narayever’s Building Task Force (BTF) has been investigating various ways to address these issues.
This has proved to be a challenging undertaking: our building is of modest size, on a relatively small site, and in a residential area to boot. The BTF is committed to finding a way to make the necessary improvements, to consulting with the congregation every step of the way, and to stewarding a project that is respectful of the neighbourhood and sensitive to our neighbours.
Since February, the BTF has been working intensively with LGA Architectural Partners to develop a plan for the building based on the following goals:
- Add an elevator to provide access to every level of the building, and to provide other accessibility improvements
- Add approximately 2,000 sq. ft. of new programming and administrative space
- Preserve the sanctuary interior and respect the character of the building
- Maximize natural light and ventilation
- Minimize the impact on the neighbouring properties
- Optimize the affordability of the design
Status and Approval Process
Our preliminary plan accomplishes all of these objectives. Notably, it also places the elevator at the front of the building. This is a critically important change from earlier concepts: it enables us to welcome everyone to the building in a generous, equitable and dignified manner – rather than necessitating the need for some attendees to wend their way down a narrow pathway to the back of the building in order to enter there.
This plan is being reviewed by the City of Toronto to determine compliance with zoning. We will need to secure a Committee of Adjustment approval, too. We are excited to present the plan to the congregation once the requisite approvals are in hand. We will then be able to refine and finalize the design in consultation with the congregation, submit the design to acquire a building permit and, we hope, move forward with construction.
Of course, major changes such as these require a significant financial commitment. The recently established Capital Campaign Committee is charged with developing a fundraising strategy that will likely encompass the full-range of fundraising means: a foundation grants, major gifts, donations and borrowed funds – which would be repaid through an annual levy on members. The first step toward raising funds is a $60 per person building levy to defray the design costs we will be incurring in the coming year. This was presented for decision at the Annual General meeting on June 5.
Building Task Force Co-chairs:
Capital campaign Committee Co-Chairs:
Overview 1: Renovations and Planning to Date
2000-2001: A major renovation was undertaken to increase the size of the sanctuary, add a one-story extension to the rear of the building, lower the basement floor, update the kitchen, and install fire exits.
2008: The solarium was added to the main floor to provide additional programming and meeting space.
Since this project, the congregation has recognized the need to make the shul accessible and to expand interior capacity to provide for more office, meeting and programming space.
2009: Approval was given during the Annual General Meeting to form a committee to investigate accessibility options for the shul and to report back at the next AGM.
2010: A Special Projects Committee prepared a report on options for improving accessibility for the shul.
2011: A proposal was considered that would provide for 2,000 sq. ft of additional interior space and the installation of an elevator with access to all floors. A building permit application was submitted to the City. Subsequently, due to concerns about the building space layout, limited backyard space, and awkward access to the elevator, the Board decided not to pursue this plan and the building permit expired.
2013: It was again determined by the Board that changes had to be made to improve accessibility so that our shul would be inclusive; a new Building Task Force was established to investigate and consider options.
Overview 2: Consultations with The Congregation
In early 2015, the Building Task Force (BTF) embarked on a consultation process with the membership to consider options for the future of the shul building. Three town hall meetings were held in January 2015.
Members also received an email invitation to participate in an online survey to which there were 180 responses (about 27% of the membership). The results of the survey were provided to the membership on March 11, 2015.
Responses to three key questions were as follows:
- Overall approach favoured
Maintaining the status quo 12%
Moving to a new site 26%
Renovating the existing site 62%
- Desirability of Renovating
Renovation is desirable 45%
Renovation is very desirable 37%
Total in favour of renovation: 82%
- Desirability of Maintaining the Status Quo
Status quo is undesirable 50%
Status quo is very undesirable 27%
Total sentiment re undesirability of status quo: 77%.
It was clear from these responses that there was:
- A strong preference to renovate our existing premises, and
- A strong view that the status quo was undesirable.
In addition, a significant minority, (31% both in the survey results and in the accompanying comments), looked favorably on a move. This, too, informed the work of the BTF going forward.
Based on the results of the first survey, the BTF developed two preliminary concepts for renovation:
Option 1: Renovate within our existing property and provide an elevator in that location to access all floors
Option 2: Acquire one of the houses adjacent to the shul, and renovate to provide an elevator and connect the house to the shul building
In October 2015, members of the congregation were provided with a report on the renovation options and were asked to respond .The report noted the BTF recommended Option 1.
In addition, meetings were also held on October 18 and 21, during which members of the congregation were invited to ask questions and discuss the options.
Of the 101 responses to the second survey, 85% either supported or strongly supported Option 1 (renovating and expanding within the property).
Taking into consideration the results of this survey – and the fact that 87% of responses in the first survey indicated that maintaining the status quo was unacceptable, the BTF moved ahead with plans for Option 1.
In November 2015, the Narayever Board endorsed the BTF decision to:
•Proceed with developing plans to renovate the building
•Appoint architects to complete a design, and apply to the city for zoning review and approval.
The Board also decided that a resolution would be presented to the next Annual General Meeting, or a Special General Meeting, to proceed with the project through a combination of grants, large gifts, donations and borrowed funds, (the borrowed funds to be repaid through an annual levy on members).