It will be a time to celebrate for Chabad of Greater St. Louis as it reveals its revamped building to the public at an event set for later this month (full details on page 12).
“Everything is multipurpose. That was the genius of the whole thing,” said Rabbi Yosef Landa, regional director of Chabad. “We took a three-and-a-half-thousand square foot building and squeezed out of it every bit of use we possibly can.”
In fact, the building’s footprint is one of the few things that didn’t change during the $1.5 million project, which completely refinished the Morris and Ann Lazaroff Chabad Center, taking it all the way down to three bare walls. Even the roof was replaced during the redo with the ceiling being raised from 8 to 14 feet and the installation of new windows to bring in more natural light.
Massive changes are evident both inside and out. A new lobby welcomes visitors. The restrooms and food preparation area were rebuilt and a new metal and brick façade now defines the front of the building, which is accented by improvements to landscaping. Efficiency and versatility is a major theme in the structure where dead space is at a minimum and even a set of cabinets in the assembly area can be folded out like an ironing board to create an impromptu office with phone, printer, computer and a makeshift desk.
Landa’s son, programming director Rabbi Levi Landa, said that the previous appearance of the old building, which has housed the institution since the mid-1990s, didn’t make much of an impression.
“It was kind of a low-slung mid-century modern,” he noted. “People were always kind of driving past a couple of times in both directions and then calling us and saying ‘Where are you?’”
By contrast, the facelift at 8124 Delmar has brought a lot of attention with visitors stopping by to comment.
“We’re getting to meet our neighbors that — for whatever reason — we haven’t in the last 20 years that we were there previously,” he said.
They hope to meet even more of them during the dedication event Sunday, Sept. 25, which will feature food, music, crafts and activities for children. Dignitaries will be on-hand and Yosef Landa said the St. Louis County Council was expected to take up a resolution recognizing the reopening. Attendance is free and Chabad leaders hope the entire community will come out to join them.
Levi Landa said that the project, which began construction in mid-2015, is all part of promoting a warm, welcoming atmosphere that can host everything from lectures to matzah baking thanks to a foldable partition that divides the main assembly area when needed.
“Because of the way the building is situated where you can access both spaces from the lobby, we can actually have two things going on simultaneously that don’t interfere with each other,” he said. “A really cool feature of the movable partition is that the soundproofing we were able to get in there is actually higher than what you would have with regular drywall.”
There is new technology in the structure as well including teleconferencing capabilities and audiovisual equipment such as a large flat screen monitor on a swivel arm.
The younger Landa said that the setup enhances functionality and allows for the staging of events that
previously might have had to be done elsewhere. His father agreed.
“We were – for the longest time – the wandering Jews,” said Yosef Landa. “In order to do programming, we had to go elsewhere. There was a great deal of programs that we simply couldn’t do and couldn’t plan properly because the facility wasn’t able to accommodate it.”
He said the institution had to be completely out of the building for about a year while construction was underway.
There were also some unexpected opportunities that arose during reconstruction. Thanks to efforts facilitated by philanthropist Michael Staenberg, an abandoned medical building next door became available and Chabad added the parcel to its current lot and tore down the unused structure. Though there are no immediate plans to use the vacant tract, it will add parking spaces, allow for a wider driveway and could be of use for expansions in the future. The lot triples the size of Chabad’s property.
Some things will remain the same. The structure itself will retain the Lazaroff name in recognition of the extensive contributions of Morris and Ann Lazaroff.
“The family’s commitment to the mission of Chabad and to this project were extraordinary,” he said.
The dedication will also honor the vision and contribution of Staenberg by dedicating the Staenberg Family Center for Jewish Life & Learning as an institution for programming, which will operate out of the refurbished structure.
The elder Landa said that about 80 percent of the fundraising had been finished for the building project and he expected the rest could be completed by the end of the year.