The Kaplen Family Building is nearing completion. Nine months after we began, the basic structure is “tight,” and workers are turning their full attention to the interior of the 22,000-square-foot addition to our Amherst headquarters. In the 250-seat Kligerman-Greenspun Performance Hall, crews are hanging massive white spiral heating ducts, sized to assure near-silent operation. Electricians and computer specialists are pulling miles of wire. In the kosher classroom kitchen, plumbers are installing a labyrinth of copper pipes and cast-iron drains. In the Klarman Student Center, carpenters are installing kitchen cabinets, ash doors and interior windows, peg racks and cubbies, and, in every nook and cranny, wooden bookcases for our Reference Library.
The new, climate-controlled book repository has been painted, sprinkler pipes and alarm systems are in place, about half of the light fixtures are up, and pallets of newly-donated steel library shelving are stacked in a corner, awaiting installation. Kelleher Construction’s uncommonly resourceful project manager, Rick Southgate, and the dauntless super, Paul Hursty, are doing a heroic job in keeping the project on time and under budget. If all goes well, we’ll be opening our doors in April.
Here at the National Yiddish Book Center, we can hear the rumble of heavy equipment and the pounding of hammers as workers create the Kaplen Family Building for our new school.
These sounds are a welcome reminder that we will soon fill the space with fantastic new educational and cultural programs. We’re contemplating everything from year-round courses for college students and community leaders, to multi-day seminars for anyone with curiosity about Yiddish language and Jewish culture – as well as online classes so you can study from the comfort of your own home. We’ll also have a new multi-purpose performance hall, which will hold up to 275 people for concerts, dances and other events.
As we brainstorm and plan we would love to hear from you. What public programs would you like to attend? What kind of classes would you like to see offered? Would you like to learn Yiddish so you can some day translate your grandfather’s journal? Would you like to explore the history of Jewish food? Jewish theater? What else?
And how would you like to participate? Online? In your own community? Ponim al ponim, face to face, here at our center in Amherst?
We look forward to hearing your responses!
We’re going up! The two-story steel skeleton that will become the Kaplen Family Building is taking shape. The wooden beams have arrived and are being hoisted into place; soon a crew will show up to begin installing the metal studs that will form the exterior walls of the performance hall, the kosher kitchen, and other rooms. We’ll also be receiving the dozens of windows that will be installed in these walls, bringing light into the new space, and allowing students, staff and visitors to enjoy the beautiful New England landscape outside.
Next to the education building, the huge concrete foundation for the new Yiddish book repository is already in the ground. Once the concrete crew finishes the internal columns, they’ll begin installing what’s called in the trades the “false work” — a forest of poles that provides temporary support for the freshly poured concrete roof, which is expected to weigh upwards of 1.6 million pounds when wet. The contractor is racing to make the entire project weather-tight before Thanksgiving and is pretty much right on schedule.
I finally know how a gefilte fish feels in aspic! For the past four days, a crew of roustabouts have been installing sheet piles: massive lengths of steel driven deep into the earth to prevent our existing building from collapsing when excavation begins for the adjacent addition. How do you drive 11,000-pound monoliths of steel 22 feet into the ground? By dangling them at the end of crane and – using a massive hydraulic makherayke (contraption) – vibrating them at such high speed that they liquefy the soil beneath them and literally sink into place. Of course, the process not only shakes the steel but everything else for hundreds of feet in every direction: windows, walls, floors and teeth. The “seismic guy,” an engineer with two seismographs on the ground to make sure the shaking doesn’t get out of hand, assured me that we didn’t exceed .12 on the Richter Scale: enough to shake books off the shelves, but not enough to cause structural damage, which begins at .5. Comforting, but not enough to keep the computer screen from dancing on my desk as I write. The foreman assures me that in another half-hour the last pylon will be in place and the shaking will be over. Next week they’ll cut of the excess steel and install pressure-grouted diagonal steel bracing rods 40 feet into the ground. After that they can bring in the heavy machines and dig in earnest without worrying about toppling our existing building in the process.
Digging is already underway for our semi-underground Deposit Library. Eighteen thousand years ago, retreating glaciers created Glacial Lake Hitchcock: a body of water that extended up the Connecticut River Valley from Middletown, Connecticut to St, Johnsbury, Vermont. Apparently the future home of the Yiddish Book Center lay somewhere on the shoreline, because no matter how deep we dig, all we find is sand. It looks like a beach out there, or a giant sandbox. Forms for the concrete footings are already in place, and we should start seeing the first concrete walls by this time next week.
I was working at home on Sunday when an urgent email came through from Jane Gronau, the director of our Visitors Center. “We’ve got a building full of visitors,” she wrote; “WHERE IS THE LINOTYPE?????” She had good reason to resort to the upper case: how do you misplace a 4,500-pound behemoth that happens to be last surviving Yiddish Linotype on earth? What Jane didn’t know – a slight breakdown in communication – was that last Friday afternoon we had called in riggers to move the machine: from the exhibit room where it’s been admired by visitors for the past 12 years to the main floor of our existing book repository, where it will anchor a new, 10,000-square-foot permanent exhibition. We had a carpenter on hand to take down part of a sheet-rock wall – the machine was too big to extricate otherwise – and all went well until the riggers jacked it onto an all-terrain forklift, drove it around the outside of the building, and tried to maneuver it back in at the other end, onto the repository floor. The reach proved too long and the Linotype too heavy, the back wheels of the forklift lifted off the ground, and we had no choice but to back off and consign the venerable machine to a temporary storage container in the parking lot. We’ll try again in two weeks, once a heavier forklift arrives on site.
From the very beginning we’ve been determined to use geothermal energy to heat and cool our new building. Unfortunately, what’s standard practice in Europe is still in its infancy here in the United States. Over the past two years I’ve travelled from New Hampshire to Oklahoma City in search of geothermal know-how. A breakthrough finally came last week, when we signed on Mike Zimmerman, an experienced geothermal engineer from Sudbury, Massachusetts, and John Williams, a seasoned heating and cooling contractor, to do the job. Their ingenious design will use two 1,500-foot wells to “borrow” energy from the earth to heat and cool the Kaplen addition and our existing building as well. It will cost us an extra $100,000 to include our existing space – a sum we now need to raise. But the payback period is just six years at current prices, and we can look forward to annual average energy savings of 55%! Yiddish is looking greener all the time.