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.
The sun is shining, the wind is blowing and there’s a remote control dirt packer right outside my window! Who knew there was such a thing?
Spring has most definitely sprung here in the Pioneer Valley, and amidst the riotous blossoming there is much activity. Dietz Construction has arrived to dig up and divert some underground drainage piping so that they can put in the new access road. The truth is, the digging has been going on for days but those of us whose offices are eye-level with all the action have not been able to discern the purpose until today. As a small crane lowered a huge cement cylinder into the big hole back where the loading dock used to be, one of my coworkers speculated out loud that perhaps the Book Center was finally installing that hot tub we’ve been asking for? But no. It’s all about drainage, at this point.
Dirt, dirt and more dirt – where there used to be apple trees and gently sloping lawns. At the moment, that’s the view from my office. There are backhoes parked outside my window ready to roar into action and an army of robins feasting on the worms that were uncovered when the grass was stripped away. This early stage of the construction process at the Book Center is like early spring in New England: all promise and anticipation but not much to look at. Change, however, is in the air. Paul Hursty, field manager for Kelleher Construction, is striding amongst the robins, assessing progress and planning next steps. And signs of spring are everywhere. By this time next week, the view from my window might be entirely different.
We’ve broken ground on our building expansion! The bulldozers and backhoes are in full force. Soon we’ll be opening our state-of-the-art Deposit Library built into the hillside behind our existing theater, a concrete “vault” with shelving for a half-million of our most important volumes. Through precisely calibrated control of temperature and humidity, we’ll be able to assure their preservation for centuries to come.
Adjacent to the Library will be a sunlit, two-story “Yiddish academy,” featuring comfortable classrooms and seminar rooms, a performance hall with seating for 275, a student commons, a distance learning studio, galleries and exhibition space, a kosher kitchen, offices for faculty and staff, and, just outside, a “big top” tent for summer audiences of 600 or more.