Archive for May, 2008
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.
Construction has begun! On May 4, we officially broke ground for the Kaplen Family Building: a 22,000-square-foot addition that will almost double the size of our Amherst headquarters. The new structure will provide much needed, state-of-the-art, long-term storage for our most valuable books – and a perfect home for our newly expanded educational programs, including a national School for Jewish Culture.
This blog will give our friends and members a chance to watch with us as the building rises before our eyes. Completion is slated for this coming winter, and we hope to dedicate the structure with a rollicking Khanukes habayis (public Housewarming Party) and open our doors to students – both college age and adults – by May of 2009.
Thanks to the extraordinary vision and generosity of our members, funding for the $7-million expansion is mostly in hand. But it’s still not too late to put your name on this exciting, history-making building. Remaining gift opportunities include an innovative geothermal system that will heat and cool our existing building and the addition; a kosher “demonstration” kitchen where we’ll offer regular classes in Jewish cooking; and a 275-seat Performance Hall where audiences can enjoy the best of Yiddish and other modern Jewish music, film, theater and more.
A spirited group of board members, major donors and other special friends, many resplendent in bright green hard hats, streamed into the apple orchard behind the Yiddish Book Center on Sunday, May 4, to break ground for the Kaplen Family Building. There was music (by our own Hankus Netsky and his Freylekh Valley Orkestr); there were speeches (by founding board member Penina Glazer, vice president Lou Cove, board chair Lief D. Rosenblatt, and Center president Aaron Lansky); there was a Shehekhionu to mark the occasion; there was applause and cheering; and then 16 shovels dug into the ground at once and construction had officially begun. If you missed the groundbreaking simkhe, have no fear: all of our 30,000 members are invited to the Khanukes habayis – the celebratory Dedication and Housewarming Festival to take place when the completed Kaplan Building opens its doors to the public in May of 2009. Stay tuned – we’ll be announcing the time and date shortly.
The mood here at the Book Center was bright and ebullient yesterday, despite the damp weather. Book Center staff, board, volunteers and special guests gathered to formally break ground on this building expansion project. Technically, the ground had already been broken several weeks before (as this blog can attest). But every great project deserves a celebratory kick-off, and this one was lovely.
We gathered in the Book Center’s Great Hall at noon, and paraded out through the Yiddish Writers Garden, past the pond, and down to the apple orchard in a festive procession with music by the Freylekh Valley Orkestr (led by our own Vice President of Education, Hankus Netsky). The hard-hatted crowd then perched on benches under a white tent to hear inspired and inspiring words from four very important people: founder and president Aaron Lansky; board chair, Lief Rosenblatt, founding board member and former board chair, Penina Glazer; and vice president, Lou Cove. At the appropriate moment, no less than 16 shovels went into the soil to make the groundbreaking official.