Chabad revamp of U. City facility underway

Artist’s rendering of Chabad’s revamped Morris and Ann Lazaroff Center in University City. 

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Chabad has taken another step towards completing a major facelift for its Delmar Boulevard facility with construction now set to get underway.

“We just, as of last week, got our building permits from University City,” said Gary Lazaroff, who, along with brother Neil, is helping to spearhead the campaign for the building, which is named in honor of their parents Morris and Ann.

The institution unveiled its plans for the revamp at the beginning of 2013 and has now completed 80 percent of fundraising for the building, which will include new kitchen facilities, the creation of a meeting room and new lighting and projection equipment among a variety of other upgrades. The outside will be redone as well to give the structure a fresh look with a new façade, windows and landscaping. 

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A central wall is also being removed to allow for the installation of removable soundproof partitions. This will increase the building’s flexibility for events of different sizes.

Plans have grown somewhat since the idea’s inception, thanks in part to an expanding budget. The original $750,000 blueprint has increased to $1.3 million due to the support of donors, including a substantial gift from philanthropist Michael Staenberg. He has also given significant creative input to the project, according to Chabad’s leadership.

Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad, said the budgetary boost was helpful.

“It will also go to cover the cost of furnishings and a maintenance fund,” he said. “It will leave the building at the end of this fundraising campaign unencumbered by any debt.”

Though the footprint of the nearly 4,000-square-foot facility will remain the same, some of the changes in the plans will augment the amount of usable space.

“What happened was that because of us thinking big and the encouragement of Michael Staenberg, we found more room,” said Landa. “We figured out how to make this building more versatile and more functional.”

Neil Lazaroff said the key was moving air-conditioning units and other utility structures onto the roof and using the space to widen out the new bathrooms and create a larger and more functional kitchen.

Landa said the facility will grow in a vertical sense as well. “The height throughout the entire building is dramatically increased,” he said. “You had a very low ceiling. I think it was a seven-or-eight-foot ceiling we worked with which gives a very cramped feeling, especially when you have a number of people there. This is going to be 14 feet at certain points. We will end up with something that is going to feel a lot roomier.”

The only initially planned amenity, which has been cancelled, was a new patio. It was dropped due to certain local ordinances.

The Lazaroffs said construction is now ready to get underway with demolition having been completed in the past couple of weeks. 

Ironically, Landa noted that demolition got started a bit sooner than planned with a late-night car crash in which a vehicle hit the building, doing significant damage. He said the incident helped provide some of the impetus to get the project moving.

Landa said Chabad is now housed in temporary quarters elsewhere as it awaits completion of the improvements, which should take about four months. The rabbi hopes the facility will be complete before Rosh Hashanah.

Regardless, he believes that the revamped building will allow Chabad to host more of its events on Delmar rather than having to find other venues. Landa feels it will do more to further the congregation’s vision of sponsoring events that bridge denominational boundaries.

“In terms of programming we’ve been the wandering Jew. We have to take our programs off-site very often,” he said. “This will enable us to do a lot more of our programming on-site. The décor will be inviting. It will be a place that people will want to come into.”